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Emily, Alone: A Novel Hardcover – March 17, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 137 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Emily Maxwell Series

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Editorial Reviews

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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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

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Product Details

  • 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: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,327 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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