Every Last One is arguably your darkest novel since Black and Blue in 1998. What made you want to write about tragedy striking an ordinary family? OrEvery Last One is arguably your darkest novel since Black and Blue in 1998. What made you want to write about tragedy striking an ordinary family? Or was it a theme that first intrigued you?
And so begins an interview with author Anna Quindlen about her latest book, Every Last One, on Amazon. I routinely list Black and Blue as one of my favorite novels and to hear both it and this novel I so recently finished described as dark is a little intriguing. Why do I like the depressing? What is it about these two books that called me to them?
The answer is actually pretty easy: Anna Quindlen. I like the way she write, the way she sets off related thoughts in commas at the end of sentences, the musical cadence of her prose. I like it because it resembles the way I write and think, meaning I’ve either unconsciously copied her or like her writing style because she already speaks my language.
All I knew about this novel, though, was that this was the story of a family, a so-called happy family. A mom, dad, an almost-grown, free-spirited, soon-to-graduate daughter and fraternal twin boys who were as different as night and day. And somehow, from the very beginning, I knew something VERY BAD was going to happen. I just didn’t know when, and I always read with a sense of trepidation, waiting for that other shoe to drop, for the perfect family to become less so.
And it did. Everything crashed down around Mary Beth (the protagonist and mother in the story). And suddenly, everything she had loved (well, almost everything) was gone. Her worst fears (every last one of them) had been realized. Tragedy has struck her family and it didn’t matter that she was a good mother or that she had tried to prepare for every possibility that could happen to her family or the plans she had for them. Suddenly, through an act of violence that shocked me, her life is dramatically changed.
The rest of the novel deals with the aftermath of that fateful night. With Mary Beth, you deal with grief, blame, suspicion, and the weight of blaming yourself for not having been enough. I'd like to say here that I didn't get Mary Beth as a character completely. She seemed a bit cold to me and despite the story being told through her point of view,she remained somehow distant and hard to understand for me.
I thought this novel handled grief very well and very honestly. And if I’m drawn to Anna Quindlen’s “dark” novels, I think I know the reason why: they’re not really dark; they’re honest. Grief is a pain that ebbs and flows. You want to be strong for others and you want to fall apart. The silliest things remind you of your loved ones and your loss and you find tears pricking your eyes at the most inopportune moments. You find yourself hoping that maybe someday you’ll smell that perfume or see that item without a sob catching in your throat. You hope that someday, while the tears may never fully disappear, that you can manage to see the “ghosts” and meet them with a smile of remembrance.
In the end, this is a novel about grieving and learning that we are not the ones in control of everything. Sometimes, the plans we make disappear—sometimes silently; sometimes they are ripped from our lives. In the book, Mary Beth’s climactic moment (and I’m guessing a reference to the title) is when she declares that all of our fears, every last one of them, is really the same fear: the fear of death.
But that’s not really what this book said to me. It wasn’t about fear; it was about grief. It was about surviving when you are “the last one,” the one left behind when tragedy strikes, the one who has to continue to live when it feels like your heart has been buried with your loved one. It’s a loving note to every “last one,” a reminder that grief is real, true, and not something we have to hide.
An admission: it was this book’s title that drew me in. And when it arrived last week inside a big box of new reading material I had ordered from AmazAn admission: it was this book’s title that drew me in. And when it arrived last week inside a big box of new reading material I had ordered from Amazon, I was equally captivated by its quirky cover art and the seemingly hand-drawn sentence diagrams inside. Then, I started reading the book. Instead of being dense and hard to decipher, Kitty Burns Florey chose to present the information with style and—wait for it—a sense of humor. When I first ran across a footnote, I thought, Awesome. I can’t believe I’m reading a book with footnotes. Then I read the note and it made me chuckle. The footnotes in this book are sometimes true footnotes. Sometimes, though, they’re just funny, off-hand narrowly related quotes or quips the author just had to share with her readers, which turned out to be something I enjoyed immensely, since that’s the way I’d like to use footnotes, too.
This book isn’t long and it’s definitely a quick read. You’ll learn about the creators of the practice of sentence diagramming (and a few precursors) and learn the various reasons it has been used to teach grammar and why it may have fallen out of favor with many. All along the way through this quirky adventure into the world of word nerdom, Florey makes some interesting points, among them: • sentence diagramming doesn’t teach good writing; that’s a God-given talent; • you can even diagram bad sentences; • diagramming teaches the science of words rather than the art (that’s my term. What I mean is that diagramming teaches you the parts of speech and units that make up sentences and paragraphs, but it can’t teach you the art of putting them together in ways that stir the heart and activate the brain.)
Florey’s discussion of poetry and grammar (and the diagrams of florid sentences penned by the likes of William Faulkner and Jack Kerouac) is interesting, even if you get a bit lost and confused in the large section of the chapter that discusses Gertrude Stein. Who even though Florey says again and again is brilliant was SO confusing to me in those quotes that I doubt I’ll be reading any of her work anytime soon. Add in a little ranting about the precise meanings of words and how our culture so often misuses them and the revelation of a philosophy of editing that so closely resembles my own that I wish I had written it myself, and you’ve got a winner!
This isn’t a how-to diagram sentences book or overly scholarly. This is a quick, fun, informative read for people who are in love with words and grammar and remember with the nostalgia when that realization came. Which may or may not have been when we were diagramming sentences in grade school....more
I will admit this: prior to last year, I’d never heard of this book. But there it was on the BBC’s list of top 100 books and I never really got aroundI will admit this: prior to last year, I’d never heard of this book. But there it was on the BBC’s list of top 100 books and I never really got around to reading it when my reading challenge fell apart at the seams last year. So, I added it to this year’s reading list and was overjoyed earlier in the year when I found a nice hardback copy from 1937 at a local used bookstore.
It’s really weird that I had never really heard of this book, much less read it. After I started reading it, I did a little research and found out that it’s considered one of the first mystery novels and is widely regarded as a classic. Written in 1859, the novel reveals its plot through several different voices. First we hear from Walter Hartright, a drawing teacher/master, who tells his part of the story. Others, including a lawyer, several servants, a “Count” who may not be a count, and others advance the storyline by telling the events they themselves experienced. Some write their stories as letters; others tell it in first person. One character, Marian Halcombe, tells a large portion of her part of the story through journal entries.
The plot is pretty intriguing and kept me turning the pages, even though I knew, somehow, that it would end happily. Basically, Walter goes to the north of England to teach some young ladies to draw. The night before he goes, he has a mysterious encounter with a woman dressed all in white who he helps get to her destination. Later, he discovers she has escaped from an asylum. Once at his new post, he slowly falls in love with one of his students, a pretty girl who has the misfortune of already being engaged to someone else. Walter leaves despite the fact that both he and Laura love one another and lets her make her decision. She reveals that she loves someone else to her betrothed—honest and forthright as she can be—and he still chooses to marry her. It’s a marriage she didn’t want and most of the people in her life think it’s a terrible idea.
And they turn out to be right. Laura becomes the wife of Sir Percival Glyde, a man with a title who has lost most of his fortune and Laura is his way to get more money. Therefore, she becomes a pawn in a deadly game Glyde and his friend Count Fosco are playing. The story that unfolds involves faked death, stolen identities, asylums, drugs, something kind of similar to the mob, and secrets characters would do anything they could to keep. I’m not going to reveal the entire plot, because I’d rather you read the book and let the mystery unfold for yourself.
I will say that for a book written in 1859, the devices Wilkie Collins’ employed to weave his tale are surprisingly modern. Writers like Jodi Picoult and Ian McEwan have used similar techniques to allow as many voices as possible to tell their stories. While to the modern reader, this mystery may seem overly sensational and romantic, lacking the courtroom drama of a John Grisham novel or the brashness and gore of Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta novels, Wilkie Collins’ masterpiece holds up well. It’s an enjoyable (but long) read that kept me turning the pages toward the end just because I wanted to know what happened.
For the mystery lover, this is a must-read. For those who’d like to ease in to classic novels, The Woman in White is a good place to start. So pick up a copy and read it!...more
When I started reading this book, I had the sinking feeling I wouldn't finish it. Yates seems obsessed with words, lots of them. I found the endless sWhen I started reading this book, I had the sinking feeling I wouldn't finish it. Yates seems obsessed with words, lots of them. I found the endless sentences, commas, and phrases cloying and overpowering. Not that I wanted Hemingway's brief simplicity which also has its limits, but the sheer breadth of all the words Yates used to get his point across and his narrative out there almost drowned me! And I get that this is a novel about the suburban malaise, as some have called it, and maybe it's because the 1950s are just the time period when my parents were born to me and the beginning of rock n' roll, but I have a sinking feeling I just didn't get it. All the angst. All the self-absorption. All the thinking about ME, ME, ME! I did find myself wondering if this is the way my grandfather felt when he came back from World War II and that would give me some insight and understanding of my grandparents' relationship. In the end, I felt like this was a book that plodded along, a book in which nothing happens and everything happens. I can't tell you the main point; I honestly simultaneously hate and feel sorry for the main characters; and feel a little like Shep Campbell at the end, wishing Milly would just shut up and that this depressing story would end and wondering how flawed people and flawed lives could be prettied up and romanticized for our memories. ...more