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Every Last One: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 13, 2010
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Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Anna Quindlen
The best preparation I could have had for a life as a novelist was life as a newspaper reporter. At a time when more impressionistic renderings of events were beginning to creep into the news pages, I learned to look always for the telling detail: the neon sign in the club window, the striped towel on the deserted beach. I learned to distinguish between those details that simply existed and those that revealed. Those telling details are the essence of fiction that feels real. The command of those details explains why Charles Dickens, a onetime reporter, has a byline for the ages.
I learned, from decades of writing down their words verbatim in notebooks, how real people talk. I learned that syntax and rhythm were almost as individual as a fingerprint, and that one quotation, precisely transcribed and intentionally untidied, could delineate a character in a way that pages of exposition never could. And I learned to make every word count. All those years of being given 1,200 words, of having the 1,200 pared to 900 at 3 o'clock: it teaches you to make the distinction between what is necessary and what is simply you in love with the sound of your own voice. The most important thing I ever do from an editing perspective is cut. I learned how to do that in newsrooms, where cutting is commonplace, swift, and draconian.
That’s where I learned about writer's block, too. People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. That's not the way it works, and one of the best places to learn that is a newspaper, which in its instant obsolescence is infinitely forgiving. Jacques Barzun once wrote: "Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper, not eternal bronze: let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands." Journalism is the professional embodiment of that soothing sentiment.
Of course, it is also the professional embodiment of fact-finding, and that, more than anything else, is why the notion of a journalist who is also a novelist perplexes readers. "I could never make it up," one of the very best reporters I've ever known said to me. But that notion of untrammeled invention becomes illusory after a while. If you manage to build characters from the ground up carefully, make them really real, your ability to invent decreases as their verisimilitude grows. Certain people will only behave in certain ways; certain behaviors will only lead to certain other behaviors. The entire range of possible events decreases as characters choose one road, not another. Plot is like a perspective drawing, its possible permutations growing narrower and narrower, until it reaches a fixed point in the distance. That point is the ending. Life is like that. Fiction is like life, at least if it is good. And I know life. I learned it as a newspaper reporter, and now I reflect that education as a novelist. --Anna Quindlen
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
In "Every Last One," the story is narrated by Mary Beth Latham, mother of three. She has a faithful, stoic husband, her own business in gardening, and yet, this mom is feeling the slightest hints of emptiness, loneliness, as her children grow up and away.
The eldest, Ruby, is a writer. At seventeen, she is growing into a young woman known for her quirks, her artistic temperament and her ability at school. Her private manners with her family, however, reveal her to be as headstrong and rude and arrogant as any teen can be.
The twins, Alex and Max, are fraternal. They share very little except a room. Alex is the athlete; Max is the musician. Alex is popular; Max is on the fringes of his school's society. They are not exactly friends though they are brothers.
The book moves through family crisis and angst over Max's depression, Alex's cockiness, and Ruby's insistence that parents just chill when it comes to her personal life. Her personal life includes a lost-puppy boyfriend, Kiernan, who has a special place in the Latham household although as readers we get to know a wide circle of people. Quindlen handles a large cast with clarity and sympathy.
My only reservation about the book is a result of the back cover's blurb, which I felt contained an unnecessary spoiler. For the pure enjoyment of watching a family that seems perfect but that is as dysfunctional as any other, avoid reading the jacket blurb.
I am a big fan of Anna Quindlen's works. "Every Last One" is a quick read, full of emotional moments and insights into the way women bond and think. Some of the setting details seem thrown in to perhaps update the story now and then, but big deal--this is a terrific book.
Despite the fact that the jacket description of this book set me up to be looking for clues as to the shocking event at the center of the story, the book is powerfully well-written and compelling. The characters all seem real, and the first-person narration manages to reveal things about the other characters that even she seems not to be aware of. I really don't know how the author did that, so consistently and well, but I definitely knew things about many of the supporting characters that the narrator did not know. The author's ability to express the essence of a personality in just a single line of dialog or a physical mannerism is impressive, and she even makes it plausible that these "reveals" are unnoticed by the narrator, presumably due to familiarity.
I was deeply impressed with the book, and I find myself thinking about the characters and situations even now, days later. So why not give it five stars? Well, there are a couple reasons, and I can't really tell you what they are. There are two plot points that just irritated me. Both of them are spoilers, so I won't say what they are, but one of them seemed unnecessary and one of them was just clumsy. Both of them stood out in a what was otherwise a tightly plotted and meticulously paced novel. And each of them slammed me out of suspension of disbelief when it happened, which significantly reduced my enjoyment of the novel.
I still highly recommend this book. It feels very real, and there are many layers of meaning here to uncover, all wrapped up in fluent prose and intriguing characters.
This is the story of the Latham family, as narrated by the mother, Mary Beth. Her husband is an ophthalmologist and they have three teenage children, Ruby and twins Max and Alex. The jacket says that a shocking act of violence is going to befall the family and while others have complained it is a spoiler, I am glad that it did or I probably would have given up on this book. This first eighty pages or so were incredibly slow going, bordering on boring.
There is heavy foreshadowing of two possible scenarios for a tragic event and I guessed which one it was going to be long before it happened. There will be no spoilers in this review. Suffice to say that Mary Beth suffers from the fallout.
Although I did not care for this book, nor would I recommend it, I am giving it three stars rather than the two stars a lesser writer may have gotten for two reasons. The first is Anna Quindlen is not a lesser writer. Although this is not my favorite work by her, she is adept at writing whole characters and having them express themselves in ways that are true and natural. If I had liked the Mary Beth character more, I may have liked this book more. Second, is that approximately one quarter of the book deals with grief and grieving, but not in an overly depressing way. It sheds a light on the pain people go through when there is a loss, how they are supported initially and then shunned if they are not "better" in a month, and how support can, and will, come from the strangest places. This portion of the book was the Anna Quindlen I know and admire.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found little to engage me in this book, perhaps because I am not a mother. The outline of the plot was predictable and I could not relate to the minutia of suburban motherhood... Read morePublished 1 month ago by G
A great famly story about a normal family with the usual conflicts until their lives take a tragic turn. Some twist and turns to a fairly satisfying ending.Published 2 months ago by P. Hindt
Being a fan of Anna Quindlen's I looked forward to one I hadn't read yet. I am glad to have read it, but not one my favorites of hers. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Deborah Way
No way to describe why I loved this book without giving away too much. It is a beautiful book - just read it.Published 3 months ago by Gigi Trapp
Maybe not full of surprises, but definitely a huge one! We (small book club) have enjoyed her work before. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Mart's notes
but it wasn't my last. This moving, insightful book got me started on reading whatever I can by this Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Read morePublished 3 months ago by CT Snow
This book was excellent, and was very well written, so much that I am now looking to read more of her books. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Bonnie