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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.
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Top customer reviews
Everything else revolves around that central event, although it doesn't occur until halfway through this book, giving plenty of time to read about a family's life, tensions and everyday routines. There is clearly a problem lurking, a foreshadowing of a terrible event but..I don't think Quindlen gives too much away. Instead, she shows her usual skill in creating characters that readers can understand.
The woman at the heart of this book,Mary Beth Latham, is so involved with her family that she has only about an hour of free time a week. Even though I cut myself more slack now, I remember the early days of parenting and how hard it was to find any free time. Mary Beth's children aren't so young, but even so it is rough going for Mary Beth to keep track of their moods and activities.
It isn't going to be a surprise to any readers to discover that one son in this story is heading towards depression. That is foreshadowed early on. What is less obvious is where the story is going to go.
I do not believe I could survive what Mary Beth Latham went through and I had to keep reminding myself that this was - and is - fiction. But even now I can not think of this book without crying. I can't decide if it was meant to be strongly realistic, inspirational - or both. But I could not lean towards optimism after reading this one, even though I rooted for Latham and would love to know how her life turned out. I'd eagerly read a sequel to this book. Perhaps, in time, I will have a different take on Every Last One. This book cuts to the bone and if you are looking for a sunny, easy read...look elsewhere.
Having noted that, when Quindlen's newest book comes out, I'll be eagerly looking to read it. She has such talent, even when writing about difficult subjects. I can't help wondering if she felt depressed or haunted for awhile after she finished writing this or if it had a cathartic effect on her.
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.