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Emily, Alone (Emily Maxwell) Paperback – December 27, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 138 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Emily Maxwell Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Upon completion of his psychologically rigorous, emotionally raw, yet deceptively buoyant giant of a domestic drama, Wish You Were Here (2002), O�Nan obviously had sufficient material�and heart�left over to once again visit the Maxwell family of Pittsburgh a few years on in time. In the previous novel, the matriarch, Emily, has just lost her husband, and she, her sister-in-law, her two grown children, and their children gather for the last time at the family summer home in Chautauqua, New York. Now, in this sequel, we follow Emily through her domestic pleasures, concerns, and crises as the calendar year moves from holiday to holiday, with Emily experiencing increased infirmity while also seeing the physical decline of her sister-in-law and even her beloved spaniel. Connection to her children remains tricky as they approach middle age, and establishing communication with her grandchildren seems beyond her ability, for they live in a young society whose tenets are unfamiliar to her. Emily�s parental disappointment arises from her abiding sentiment that what one does for one�s children is endless and thankless. O�Nan again proves himself to be the king of detail. What people eat, how they eat it, what they think and say in the midst of eating it�this novel represents the almost minute mapping of the lay of the domestic land as O�Nan the sociological cartographer views it. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: An author tour and radio-publicity campaign will follow O�Nan�s recent appearance as a panelist at the ALA/ERT Booklist Author Forum at ALA�s Midwinter Meeting. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Praise for Emily, Alone

 

“O’Nan’s best novel yet . . . It’s heartbreaking stuff—I will confess that I found myself sobbing at certain, often unexpected, points . . . and yet the novel’s brilliance lies just as much in O’Nan’s innate comic timing, which often stems from Emily’s self-imposed isolation from, and disgust with, the modern world. . . . If O’Nan’s earlier novels were influenced by Poe, the specter of Henry James hovers delicately above Emily’s Grafton Street home, insinuating itself into O’Nan’s spiraling, exact sentences and the beautiful, subtle symbolism that permeates the novel.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Emily is as authentic a character as any who ever walked the pages of a novel. She could be our grandmother, our mother, our next-door neighbor, our aunt. Our self . . . In a portrait filled with joy and rue, O’Nan does not wield a wide brush across a vast canvas but, rather, offers an exquisite miniature. Just as Emily prefers Van Gogh’s depiction of a branch of an almond tree over the more spectacular Sunflowers, so, too, do we readers appreciate an ordinary life made, by its quiet rendering, extraordinary. No matter her—and our—unavoidable end, Emily . . . teaches us that small moments not only count but also endure.”

—Mameve Medwed, The Boston Globe

“It takes a deft hand to do justice to the ordinary . . . but, if the mundane matters to you, then Stewart O’Nan is your man. . . . O’Nan’s glory as a writer is that he conveys the full force of the quotidian without playing it for slapstick or dressing it up as Profound. . . . Emily, Alone [is] moody, lightly comic, and absolutely captivating. . . . With economy, wit, and grace, O’Nan ushers us into the shrinking world of a pleasantly flawed, rather ordinary old woman and keeps us readers transfixed by the everyday miracles of monotony.”

—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air

“To say that nothing happens in this [Emily, Alone] is like saying that there’s nothing going on in that glorious room in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum where Rembrandt’s numerous portraits of his mother hang. . . . [O’Nan] is a seamless craftsman who specializes in the lives of ordinary people. In Emily Maxwell, O’Nan has created a sturdy everywoman, occasionally blemished by pettiness and disdain for common idiocy, but always striving for a moral equilibrium.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“As riveting as a fast-paced thriller, albeit one that delves into the life and psyche of an elderly woman.”

The Miami Herald

“Stewart O’Nan’s books are not about poverty, life’s crises, gross injustice, or family drama; in fact, there’s very little drama in his works. He has become a spokesperson—in modern fiction—for the regular person, the working person, and now, the elderly. . . . This is a writer who illuminates moments like that one, moments you never even noticed. . . . O’Nan’s thoroughness is like a skill from another time—a quieter time, when it was easier to listen.”

Los Angeles Times

“O’Nan’s storytelling is as patient and meticulous as his heroine. He illuminates the everyday with splendid precision. Readers who appreciate psychological nuance and fictional filigree will delight in Emily, Alone.”

—Stephen Amidon, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Emily stretches for a kind of rediscovery. Throughout she is lovable and heartbreaking and real. When this novel ends, in a moment of great hope and vigor, you’ll find yourself missing her terribly.”

Entertainment Weekly (Grade A)

“O’Nan gives each small experience an emotional heft, and he’s supremely skilled at revealing Emily’s emotional investment in every small change in her life. . . . [A] plainspoken but brassy, somber but straight-talking [tone] infuses this entire nervy, elegant book.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[O’Nan] is an author who would drive all around town to avoid running over a single cheap thrill. He subverts our desire for commotion and searches instead for drama in the quotidian motions of survivors. . . . [Emily, Alone] quietly shuffles in where few authors have dared to go. And it’s so humane and so finely executed that I hope it finds those sensitive readers who will appreciate it.”

—Ron Charles in The Washington Post

Emily, Alone demonstrates that though the distance between an incredibly boring book and a fascinating one may seem small, it is actually miles wide. It takes a madly inventive writer to make a novel about an old woman’s daily existence as absorbing as this one is.”

The Daily

“Stewart O’Nan is a master of introspection.”

The Denver Post

“O’Nan’s book, with great poignancy and humor, offers a rare glimpse into the life of a woman whose life is nearing an end. . . . [Emily is] an irresistible character—funny, flawed, and thoroughly unsentimental about her inevitable fate. . . . In different hands, this might have been a morose book, but it’s actually delightful. O’Nan’s ability to deliver such a flawless portrait of a woman thirty years his senior speaks to his gifts as a writer.”

The Dallas Morning News

Emily, Alone, by Stewart O’Nan, is a book of quiet yet stunning beauty; steady and trim from the outside, like its protagonist, and, just like her, stirring inside with deep longings, intense observations, and a strong attachment to living.”

The Huffington Post

“O’Nan has the rare ability to make the ordinary seem unordinary in a way that is reminiscent of Updike.”

The Daily Beast

“Reading Emily, Alone made me think of Charles Dickens. This is somewhat incongruous, because Stewart O’Nan’s novels are not crafted out of the complicated, multilayered plots that we associate with Dickens. But O’Nan does share a laserlike observational talent with the Victorian master—one that can shock the reader into a sense that the story is lifted out of one’s own family or even oneself. . . . O’Nan is a true virtuoso. . . . [Emily] is quietly heroic.”

—William Kist in The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Mr. O’Nan skillfully and sensitively re-creates Emily’s world, from the city streets she nervously navigates in the car to her fears of illness and death.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Old age treads the thin line between melancholy and mirth in Stewart O’Nan’s marvelous new novel, Emily, Alone.”

Buffalo News

“There’s a calm, enveloping tone to the story that belies its unflinching exploration of a woman’s chronically discontented heart. . . . Its chief pleasure comes from unraveling this little old lady’s mess tangle of emotions.”

BookPage

“Stewart O’Nan may simply be genetically incapable of writing a bad book. His characters are written with precision, intelligence, and verisimilitude; they’re so luminously alive that a reader can accurately guess about what they’re eating for dinner or what brand toothpaste they use. . . . The fact that Stewart O’Nan can take an ‘invisible woman’—someone we nod to pleasantly and hope she won’t engage us in conversation too long—and explore her interior and exterior life is testimony to his skill. Mr. O’Nan writes about every woman . . . and shows that there is no life that can be defined as ordinary.”

Mostly Fiction Book Reviews (online)

“[Emily, Alone] is an elegant examination of aging, family, and identity with a fine balance of the surprising and the expected. It is at once optimistic and totally realistic, and every page is a joy to read. As a sequel or stand-alone title, Emily, Alone is an understated yet powerful character study from one of America’s outstanding storytellers.”

—Bookreporter.com

“[By reading Emily, Alone] it is possible that the reader could reach a deeper understanding of the stage of life or the ways that we visit the sins of our parents on our children or of the folly of holding on to outdated patterns of living. When it comes to showing us to ourselves, Stewart O’Nan is a master.”

New York Journal of Books

“A warmhearted, clear-eyed portrait of a woman in her dotage who understands that life is both awfully long and woefully short, much of it passed in waiting and regret, but never, heaven forbid, about just the past, since ‘every day was another chance.’”

Barnes and Noble Review

“This exquisite novel plumbs an interior landscape rarely explored in literature . . . It’s testament to O’Nan’s talent than Emily, Alone is a page-turner suffused with vibrancy, humor, even hope.”

Macleans

“Utterly devastating, poignant, so subtle. It is unpardonable that O’Nan is not a household name.”

—Edward Champion via Twitter

“Emily Maxwell, in Stewart O’Nan’s terrif Emily, Alone, joins India Bridge & Olive Kitteridge as women characters whom you won’t soon forget.”

—Nancy Pearl via Twitter

“[A] bracingly unsentimental, ruefully humorous, and unsparingly candid novel about the emotional and physical travails of old age. . . . The closely observed Emily is a sort of contemporary Mrs. Bridge, and O’Nan’s depiction of her attempts to sustain optimism and energy during the late stage of her life achieves a rare resonance.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“O’Nan again proves himself to be the king of detail. What people eat, how they eat it, what they think and say in the midst of eating it—this novel represents an almost minute mapping of the lay of the domestic land as O’Nan the sociological cartographer views it.”

Booklist (starred review)

“With sympathy and compassion, O’Nan spotlights the plight of aging baby boomers, further enriching our understanding of the human condition.”

Library Journal

“Another quietly poignant character study from O’Nan . . . Rueful and autumnal, but very moving.”

Kirkus Reviews

PENGUIN BOOKS

EMILY, ALONE

Stewart O’Nan is the author of fourteen novels, including The Odds; Emily, Alone; and Last Night at the Lobster, as well as several works of nonfiction, including, with Stephen King, the bestselling Faithful. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.

ALSO BY STEWART O’NAN

FICTION

 

Songs for the Missing
Last Night at the Lobster
The Good Wife
The Night Country
Wish You Were Here
Everyday People
A Prayer for the Dying
A World Away
The Speed Queen
The Names of the Dead
Snow Angels
In the Walled City

 

NONFICTION

 

Faithful (with Stephen King)
The Circus Fire
The Vietnam Reader (editor)
On Writers and Writing, by John Gardner (editor)

 

SCREENPLAY

 

Poe

Table of Contents

Praise for Emily, Alone

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Epigraph

 

TWO-FOR-ONE

JUST VISITING

MYSTERIES OF THE BRAIN

THE VIEW FROM THE FIFTH FLOOR

CLOSE TO NORMAL

THE RESURRECTION

PILGRIMS

THE BELLE OF THE BALL

THE DAY OF REST

KINDRED SPIRITS

FAMILY PICTURES

ALL-WHEEL DRIVE

HIGHWAY ROBBERY

KLEENEX

EXTRAVAGANCE

CHRISTMAS CHEER

THE BUSIEST DAY OF THE YEAR

PRESS FOR ASSISTANCE

THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST

EARTHLY POSSESSIONS

THE GIFT

HOUSEKEEPING

UNDER THE WEATHER

INGRATITUDE

FORGETFULNESS

MYSTERY!

PF

BEE MINE

A BAD HABIT

EXPRESSIONS OF SYMPATHY

THE DAMAGE

SPRING AHEAD

THE FLOWER SHOW

THE PROBLEM WITH GOOD FRIDAY

CURIOUS

THE GROWN-UP TABLE

POWER OF ATTORNEY

392

THE CRUELEST MONTH

ALMOND BLOSSOMS

DRIVE-BY

THE VIRTUAL TOUR

THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS

THE MYSTERY OF MARCIA COLE

BETTER OR WORSE?

WHITE ELEPHANTS

INNOCENT VICTIMS

LOVE, EMILY

THE START OF THE SEASON

TUBBY TATERS

CYD CHARISSE

IMPROVEMENTS

HARD TO KILL

OLD HOME DAYS

EXIT, STAGE LEFT

For my mother,
who took me to the bookmobile

Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life—startling, unexpected, unknown?

—Virginia Woolf

TWO-FOR-ONE

Tuesdays, Emily Maxwell put what precious little remained of her life in God’s and her sister-in-law Arlene’s shaky hands and they drove together to Edgewood for Eat ’n Park’s two-for-one breakfast buffet. The Sunday Post-Gazette, among its myriad other pleasures, had coupons. The rest of the week she might have nothing but melba toast and tea for breakfast, maybe peel herself a clementine for some vitamin C, but the deal was too good to pass up, and served as a built-in excuse to get out of the house. Dr. Sayid was always saying she needed to eat more.

It wasn’t far—a few miles through East Liberty and Point Breeze and Regent Square on broad streets they knew like old friends—but the trip was a test of Emily’s nerves. Arlene’s eyes weren’t the best, and her attention to the outside world was directly affected by whatever conversation they were engaged in. When she concentrated on a thought, she drove more slowly, making them the object of honking, and once, recently, from a middle-aged woman who looked surprisingly like Emily’s daughter Margaret, the finger.

“Obviously I must have done something,” Arlene had said.

“Obviously,” Emily agreed, though she could have cited a whole list. It did no good to criticize Arlene after the fact, no matter how constructively. The best you could do was hold on and not gasp at the close calls.

In the beginning they’d taken turns, but, honestly, as atrocious as Arlene was, Emily trusted herself even less. Henry had always done the driving in the family. It was a point of pride with him. When he was dying, he insisted on driving to the hospital for his chemo himself. It was only on the way home, with Henry sick and silent beside her, bent over a plastic bowl in his lap, that Emily piloted his massive Olds down the corkscrewing ramps of the medical center’s parking garage, terrified she’d scrape the sides against the scarred concrete walls. For several years she used the old boat to do her solitary errands, never venturing outside of the triangle described by the bank, the library and the Giant Eagle, but after a run-in with a fire hydrant, followed quickly by another with a Duquesne Light truck, she admitted—bitterly, since it went against her innate thriftiness—that maybe taking taxis was the better part of valor. Now the Olds sat out back in the garage with her rusty golf clubs as if decommissioned, the windshield dusty, the tires soft. She wasn’t a fan of the bus, and Arlene had made a standing offer of her Taurus, itself a boxy if less grand antique. The joke among their circle was that she’d become Emily’s chauffeur, though, as that circle shrank, fewer and fewer people knew their history, to the point where, having the same last name, they were sometimes introduced by the well-meaning young, at a University Club function or after one of Donald Wilkins’s wonderful organ recitals at Calvary, as sisters, a notion Arlene though not Emily found wildly amusing.

Today, as always, Arlene was late. It was gray and raining, typical November weather for Pittsburgh, and Emily stood at the living room’s bay window, leaning over the low radiator and holding the sheer curtain aside. The storm window was spotted and dirty. A few weekends ago, her nextdoor neighbor Jim Cole had generously hung them, but he’d failed to clean them properly, and now there was nothing to be done until the spring. She would spend a morning tending to them herself, the way her mother had taught her, with vinegar and water, wiping them streak-free with newsprint, but that was months off.

Outside, the trees and hedges along Grafton Street were bare and black, and the low sky made it feel like late afternoon instead of morning. The Millers’ was still for sale. Their leaves hadn’t been picked up yet, and lay smothering the yard, a dark, sodden mass. She wondered who would be looking to buy this time of year. The last she’d heard, Kay Miller was in an assisted living place over in Aspinwall, but that had been in August. Emily thought she should visit her, though in truth it was the last thing she wanted to do.

When she thought of fashionable, flighty Kay Miller in a place like the one in Aspinwall, she couldn’t help but picture Louise Pickering’s final hospital room. The oatmeal bareness, the mechanical bed, the plastic water pitcher with its bent straw on the rollaway table. Consciously, she knew those places could be very nice, just as homey as your own bedroom, or close to it, but the vision of Louise persisted, and the idea that she was at an age where all was stillness and waiting—not true, yet impossible to dismiss.

NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

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Product Details

  • Series: Emily Maxwell (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143120492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120490
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Stewart O'Nan may simply be genetically incapable of writing a bad book. His characters are written with precision, intelligence and detail; they're so luminously alive that a reader can accurately guess about what they're eating for dinner or what brand toothpaste they use.

In Emily, Alone, Mr. O'Nan revisits Emily, the Maxell family matriarch from a prior book, Wish You Were Here. Anyone who is seeking an action-based book or "a story arc" (as taught in college writing classes) will be sorely disappointed. But for those readers who are intrigued by a near-perfect portrait of a winningly flawed elderly woman who is still alive with anxieties, hopes, and frustrations, this is an unsparingly candid and beautifully rendered novel.

Emily Maxwell is part of a gentle but dying breed, a representative of a generation that is anchored to faith, friends and family. She mourns the civilities that are gradually going the way of the dinosaur - thank you notes, Mother's Day remembrances, and the kindness of strangers. Her two adult children have turned out imperfect - a recovering alcoholic daughter and an eager-to-please son who often acquiesces to an uncaring daughter-in-law.

With her old cadre of friends dwindling and her children caught up in their own lives, Emily fills her days with two-for-one buffet breakfasts with her sister-in-law Arlene, classical music, and her daily routine with her obstreperous dog Rufus, who is instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent life with an aging, sometimes unruly, always goofy and loving animal.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a gentle, sensitive, but unsentimental story about the marginalized lives of the elderly. Eighty-year-old Pittsburgh widow Emily Maxwell lives alone with her ripe old intractable dog, Rufus, in the modest and dignified neighborhood where she raised her children and loved her husband. She's alert, oriented, and productive in the garden, a wisp of a woman with a waning appetite and bones like balsa. She goes about her days with routine ruminations and mingled sensations. Her nights are lonely and sometimes sleepless.

You learn so much about Emily though her deliberations, her friendship with sister-in-law, Arlene, her dynamics with family, and her devotion to Rufus, who is one of the most convincing, unadulterated dogs I've met in a book. Emily's uncluttered life is centered on her aging dog, on waiting to see her children and grandchildren, (who live far away), and attending the funerals of her peers. Her faith is fastidious and her charity is steadfast. She's frugal, but not parsimonious. Of course, Emily isn't without blemishes--she has her own peculiarities and peckish ways, the details that make a fictional character authentic and memorable.

O'Nan's portrait of Emily is bald and unflinching. Many issues that affect the elderly are addressed and thoroughly examined. What happens in this story is conveyed through small gestures, in Emily's day-to-day activities, in the minutiae of her thoughts and conversations. Her transactions with the younger world around her are subtly shattering, the visible world that casts her to the sidelines and render her invisible. But Emily isn't pitiful--far from it. O'Nan's polished, unstinting prose and nuanced narrative paint a portrait of a plain and austere woman who has lived an unadorned, faithful life, a woman of her time.
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps it's hard to imagine a novel centering on an 80-year-old woman where not much happens to be compelling and even fascinating. But in the hands of Stewart O'Nan, this story is just that and more.

In EMILY, ALONE, O'Nan revisits Emily Maxwell, who was introduced in his earlier book, WISH YOU WERE HERE, and follows her through one gray Pittsburgh winter and into the spring. The pace, like Emily's own, is slow and rhythmic with an attention to detail, feeling, and the subtle changes in self and season that we so often allow to pass us by without notice or comment. With the aging but independent Emily as a guide, the life of an elderly woman is portrayed with lovely observation, thoughtful insight, and a gracefulness of language that makes this novel transcend particulars and move toward the universal.

Emily still lives in the house she shared with her husband, Henry, and where she raised her two children, Margaret and Kenneth. Now her only housemate is an aging dog named Rufus. But she spends many days with her friend and sister-in-law, Arlene, at their favorite restaurant, at church, at their country club, or at the funerals of friends and neighbors. When Arlene, who was always the driver on their excursions, has an episode that lands her in the hospital, Emily must drive for the first time in a long time. The sense of freedom and accomplishment is powerful and uplifting.

As she still pines for her family, frets over her own funeral arrangements, deeply misses her husband, keeps busy with mundane tasks, longs for the springtime, and worries about Rufus, Emily takes a chance and buys a new car. She surprises herself with her daring, yet remains acutely aware of the passage of time and its effect on her and those around her throughout the novel.
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