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Every Last One: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – March 22, 2011
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An Interview with Author 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
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In her latest, Quindlen (Rise and Shine) once again plumbs the searing emotions of ordinary people caught in tragic circumstances. Mary Beth Latham is a happily married woman entirely devoted to her three teenaged children. When her talented daughter Ruby casually announces she's breaking up with her boyfriend Kirenan, a former neighbor who's become like family, Mary Beth is slightly alarmed, but soon distracted by her son Max, who's feeling overshadowed by his extroverted, athletic twin brother Alex. Quindlen's novel moves briskly, propelled by the small dramas of summer camp, proms, soccer games and neighbors, until the rejected Kirenan blindsides the Lathams, and the reader, with an incredible act of violence. Left with almost nothing, Mary Beth struggles to cope with loss and guilt, protect what she has left, and regain a sense of meaning. Quindlen is in classic form, with strong characters and precisely cadenced prose that builds in intensity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
What did I come away with? As a parent, I can say that it is extremely easy to miss warning signs, extremely common for otherwise attentive, intelligent parents (and, yes, well-educated) to be in denial about the states of mind of our kids and their friends. We do after all wish them health and happiness. Incessant questioning can drive them further afield; taking on someone else's child as a "project" is almost always dangerous. Quindlen mentions (cannot find the page) that all of that concern about potty-training, preschool, the minor issues of raising small children pale in relation to what happens to them in the later, real, world. Aren't our concerns so petty at the beginning of the child's life, and aren't we helicoptering when we should be listening?
This is my first Quindlen book, but I was a fan of her NYT columns many years ago. She did a sensible interview in Los Altos, CA on Mother's Day and read from this novel. There are already plenty of well-written, positive reviews in this space, so mine is not really necessary. As to the long build-up where "nothing happens"? Think of what the author was trying to say with the detail in the beginning of the story. As to the tragedy, I wish reviewers would not so generously give away plot points: Spoilers were not necessary in order to criticize the book.
The book would have gotten 5 stars from me had the foreshadowing been more subtle and had some of the "stretch your imagination" incidents been a bit more realistic...Won't give away the plot to cite an example, but I think it's clear if you read carefully. Also, I think the ending a bit weak, but am unable to come up with a better idea myself!
Immediately after reading "Every Last One" I read Anne Lamott's "Imperfect Birds" Imperfect Birds: A Novel. In reviewing the latter, I mentioned that had the stepdad in that novel been in charge of Quindlen's fictional family, the tragedy could have been averted! Would be interested in reading other readers' comparisons of these similarly themed stories.
Because I figured out the crime before Amazon delivered the book (read the title; now look at the cover; now think), I nearly didn't order this one. I nearly missed this gem of literature. Anna Quindlen's prose wrings meaning from every word without becoming sparse, weaves beauty without becoming pretentious. Her pitch-perfect dialogue breathes life into characters constructed from intimate, endearing detail. The crushing crime doesn't happen until halfway through the book, and yes, the first 100 pages are a tapestry of an ordinary life. But Ms. Quindlen chooses each scene for a reason, never indulging in filler, and without the book's first half, its last half could not break the reader's heart.
What can I critique about this book? I wish the author would break paragraphs more often. That is literally the only negative thing I can say. (Look up my other reviews if you want to know how rarely--as in, never--this happens.) I don't know when a book last brought me to tears. This one did. Ms. Quindlen depicts human behavior in all its blind or willful egocentrism, all its momentary generosity, and all its in-between that we fail to notice. She paints mortality, reminds us that we will someday cease to be here. She paints grief in all its whelming tides and subtle undertows. She makes us wonder who we will miss someday, who we won't know well enough to miss, and what scraps of self we will leave behind when it comes our time to leave.