- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (March 17, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670022357
- ISBN-13: 978-0670022359
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 146 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Emily, Alone: A Novel Hardcover – March 17, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. O'Nan checks back in with the Maxwell family from Wish You Were Here in this bracingly unsentimental, ruefully humorous, and unsparingly candid novel about the emotional and physical travails of old age. At 80, widow Emily Maxwell has become dependent on her equally aged sister-in-law, Arlene, to chauffeur them to the rounds of Pittsburgh's country club dinners, flower shows, museums, and increasingly frequent funerals. After Arlene has a stroke, Emily is forced into reclaiming her independence, but she remains clear-eyed about her diminishing future and what she can expect of her two adult children and four grandchildren, giving O'Nan the opportunity and space to expertly play out the misunderstandings, disagreements, and resentments among parents and their grown children. Emily fears saying the wrong things (yet often does) and frets about her grandchildren, who are uninterested in family traditions and lax with thank-you notes. The unhurried plot follows Emily from a lonely Thanksgiving with Arlene to a Christmas visit from her daughter and two grandchildren, Easter with her son and his children, and the eve of her summer departure to Chautauqua. During this time, friends and acquaintances die, Emily observes the deterioration of the neighborhoods she's known for decades, and she continues to converse with her old dog, Rufus. Efficient, practical, stubborn, frugal, and a lover of crosswords, church services, and baroque music, 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. (Mar.)
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*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
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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.
Whether she's caring for and about her Arlene, trying to keep up with family holiday traditions, keeping tabs on a house sale nearby, and trying to do the right thing in educating her children about executor's duties, Emily struggles to find purpose. She recognizes that time is not on her side any longer and reflects, "The past was the past. Better to work on the present instead of wallowing, and yet the one comforting thought was also the most infuriating. Time, which had her on the rack, would just as effortlessly rescue her. This funk was temporary. Tomorrow she would be fine."
The thing is, we all know Emily. She is our grandmother, our mother, our piano teacher, our neighbor. She is the woman who gets up each day and attends the breakfast buffet or participates in a church auction, or waits eagerly for the mail carrier or feels perplexed about preening teenagers who blast their stereo too loud. She is the one who wonders whether she should have tried a little harder with her kids, even though "she'd tried beyond the point where others might have reasonably given up." She is the one who senses that life is waning but still intends to hang on as long as possible and go for the gusto.
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.
companionship and help with healthcare and transportation issues. Her relationships with her two adult children are filled with ambiguity, but she looks forward to their infrequent sharing of holidays and vacations.
The book is very adept at exploring the issues facing an aging woman. I found that although I am not an elderly woman yet, I could still identify with the way she tried to structure her life to maintain as much independence as possible, while maintaining some contact with family members. But, as I read more, I became progressively more depressed about the kind of life this elderly woman had and hope the author is a bit pessimistic. It was hard to see what motivated her to get out of bed each day and to attend to the minutia of her life. I kept wondering where she would get continued sustenance to make any kind of meaning of her life, and that was depressing especially since I started out by identifying with her to some degree. Maybe it boils down to the fact that I wanted her to be more fun-loving and she is not my character....she belongs to Mr. O'Nan. The lack of resolution to many of her issues may just be more realistic than I enjoy reading about!
I thought Emily was a very believable and genuine character. I found her relationship with her sister-in-law Arlene reminded me a lot of my mother's and aunt's relationship as they aged. It ended up being just the two of them and they did many things like Arlene and Emily. I also loved Emily's love for her aging dog Rufus and the silly names she made up to call him. The distance between her and her children and grandchildren seems true to our era. That's the only thing I would've changed about this book--she and her family would become closer as Emily's days become shorter. The book, however, is much more realistic than my wish and doesn't take that sentimental path.
As another reviewer wrote, I don't think Stewart O'Nan can write a bad book. This is now one of my favorite authors. Still, if it's an action-packed book you're looking for, Emily, Alone will be a disappointment. If you're looking for a wonderfully written book about the everyday life, in this case that of an elderly woman, you will love this book. It isn't a book I'd pack for a trip to the beach. I'd save it for a time when I could sit back and relish each word, which I did, and hated when it ended and I did finally have to put the book down.