Jennifer's Reviews > Every Last One

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
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's review
Mar 28, 2012

really liked it


For a long time, I wasn’t going to read this book because of a little fight I was having with Anna Quindlen. (The fight, of course, was all one-sided. She has no idea I exist or had a problem with her.) First of all, I thought Quindlen’s Rise and Shine was sub-par (Strike 1). Then I read her tiny little book of “wisdom” called Being Perfect and thought it was (to quote myself) “a money grab.” (Strike 2.) Then I saw she did ANOTHER money grab book (defined as a very short book sold for quite a bit of money) and that was it for me. (Strike 3.) So Anna Quindlen was out (like a strike-out in baseball in case you weren’t following my metaphor). But I kept seeing reviews for Every Last One popping up on various book blogs. Everyone kept praising it, but there was a Fight Club-esque feel to the plot (every review alludes to something Very Bad but you never really get a sense of what it is). The more reviews I read, the more my curiosity was aroused. What was this Bad Thing that happened to the main character in the book—a small-town wife and mother named Mary Beth Latham? I needed to know exactly what happened. So I decided that Anna Quindlen hadn’t actually struck out with me … it was more of a 3 and 2 pitch situation (to use another baseball metaphor) and this book Every Last One would be the final pitch—the pitch that would decide my future relationship with Anna Quindlen’s novels.

So I downloaded the book from Audible and began listening. With a pitch-perfect narration by Hope Davis, I quickly found myself drawn into the story of the Latham family—Mary Beth (worried, busy mom), Glenn (her ophthalmologist husband whose as perplexed by their children as she is), 17-year-old Ruby (who is flowering into a vibrant young woman full of a healthy sense of self and her place in the world), and the 15-year-old twins Max and Alex (Alex is the popular, outgoing jock while Max is the artistic recluse who seems to have fallen into a depression). Knowing only that something Very Bad happens, I listened to the book with a sense of dread; with each phone call or event, I was sure I had figured out what was going to happen. (Not one of my guesses panned out … though I did start to sniff around the edges at one point.) As Hope Davis (who really became Mary Beth for me) shares Mary Beth’s view of her world, I found myself relating to her more and more. She felt so real and lived in. Life in the Latham household felt authentic and true, and I was getting involved in their lives. Then the Very Bad thing happened (and don’t think I’m going to tell you either … listen or read the book yourself) and it was like I was punched in the stomach. I was just stunned. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I remember inhaling sharply. “No,” I thought. “This can’t be.” The book after the Bad Thing (it almost dissects the book in half) was equally well done and believable. You find yourself in this dark place with Mary Beth, and when I got to the end of the book, I was in tears.

As you may have guessed, the 3/2 pitch ended up in a home run. Every Last One was a brilliant book. It was emotional, wrenching, lovely, true—all the things that I used to admire about Quindlen’s writing before our little spat. I’m so glad I gave her one last shot as this was one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year. I also suspect that audio is the way to go with this one. Hope Davis’s narration was simply marvelous. She gave Mary Beth a real voice—full of sighs, hesitation, questioning and emotion. She made an emotional book come alive in a way that it might not have done on the page—proving, once again, that a well-done audiobook with a talented narrator can elevate a book and make it something even more special than it already is.

Well done, Ms. Quindlen and Ms. Davis. Well done.

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