Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review - Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Title: Every Last One
Author: Anna Quindlen
ISBN: 978-1400065747
Pages: 299
Release Date: April 2010
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Summary: In this breathtaking and beautiful novel, the #1 New York Times bestselling author Anna Quindlen creates an unforgettable portrait of a mother, a father, a family, and the explosive, violent consequences of what seem like inconsequential actions.

Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another. Ultimately, in the hands of Anna Quindlen’s mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.

My Thoughts: Anna Quindlen has been writing novels for many years, several of them bestsellers. It's been a long time since I read one, so when I saw Every Last One was available on Crazy Book Tours, I signed up to review the book. I looked forward to reading this book, remembering how much I enjoyed Ms. Quindlen's others. They were well-written, captivating and entertaining, filled with relatable themes and issues. The characters were complex, likable and interesting. Unfortunately, I found little of these elements in Every Last One.

The book is narrated by Mary Beth Latham, wife and mother. She is completely obsessed with her children and their daily lives to such a degree her husband tells her she's too involved. She is enamored of each child for different reasons, thinking and talking about them incessantly. The book's first half is almost entirely about the children then and now: their activities, friends, the things they say and do, their plans for the future, their hopes and dreams and more. The first few chapters seem to be building to something, but when it becomes clear the theme of obsession over her children will be an unwavering constant, the book becomes boring and tedious. As a result, the novel's pace becomes slow and plodding.

Mary Beth views her children's lives through rose-colored glasses, virtually ignoring or minimizing all problems. The Lathams, like all children, have conflicts and issues to deal with, some more serious than others. But Mary Beth is too close to them to see the reality of these problematic situations. It takes her much longer than it should to realize and react when something is wrong. Mary Beth was one of the last to realize her daughter Ruby developed an eating disorder in her freshman year of high school, for example. And it's obvious to everyone that her son Max is depressed, and has been for a while. But Mary Beth is the last to acknowledge it and take steps to help him. Mary Beth deals with her own issues in a similar way. She alludes several times to something she did in the past that she isn't proud of but refuses to dwell on it or even think about it. Not until much later in the novel do we finally learn what this thing she did is about.

Mary Beth cannot continue to live her life pretending everything is hunky-dory all the time. She's clearly in denial, despite the obvious signs all around her that something tragic is brewing. Her denial is, in fact, the basis for this recipe for disaster. She sees the signs but treats them as if they are insignificant or things will turn out okay if left alone. When just the opposite occurs and tragedy hits home, Mary Beth, like everyone else, is shocked and devastated. Her rose-colored glasses have been smashed to bits at her feet, never to be worn again. A three-dimensional, fully developed Mary Beth suddenly appears in the aftermath. As she tries to come to terms with what's happened and figure out how to go on, she faces reality and becomes a woman we can better understand.

Nothing in the first half of Every Last One prepares us for the violence and scope of the tragedy. I thought about this book for a long time after reading it and can not come up with a valid, understandable reason for what happened. Mary Beth may have needed a wake-up call, a jolt into reality, but what she experiences is uncalled for. Even unfair. I don't think she deserved what she got, not to mention it's unfair to the reader as well. I didn't like Mary Beth in the first part of the book but by the end I did. I respected her. But had I known what was going to happen, I wouldn't have read it. It's not because of the violence or the results, but because I don't think it was at all necessary or realistic. I've considered the possibility that Ms. Quindlen purposely made the first half of the book boring so when we come to the tragedy the effect of the shock is maximized, but I hope that's not the case. We, the readers, deserves more credit than that. We can get the point of a novel, when there is one, without being slammed over the head with it as we are here.

Was Ms. Quindlen's reason for this book to warn women, mother's in particular, not to deny that things might be wrong in their children's lives? To not just see potential signs as harmless, but as warning signs? And to face up to and deal with issues and problems that arise? If so, she could have, should have, done so with more subtlety; To have used less violence and taken a more realistic approach. If this was not Ms. Quindlen's over all intention, then, unfortunately, I am missing the point of the story. But I know for sure that I would not recommend Every Last One to anyone, mothers in particular.

I received a copy of this book as a part of the Crazy Book Tours.


  1. Sounds like a rather powerful book, perhaps a bit to graphic for my liking, so thanks for the warning.

  2. Quindlen's early novels were among our book club's first choices - One True Thing, Object Lessons, and maybe Black and Blue (might have read that on my own) - but it's been years since I've read her. Have been thinking about reading this, but it sounds like it may be too violent for me. Thanks.

  3. Sorry to see this didn't work for you.

  4. Ick...I didn't like this one either. It was a big disappointment after her other books.

  5. I've never read Anna Quindlen, but I won't be starting with this one! Back when I was working in a bookstore, a customer told me her friend told her not to read Every Last One because it was so crushingly sad. No, thank you!

  6. I was not thrilled with this one either Amy.....disappointing for me.

  7. Thanks for the honest review Amy.

    I read Black and Blue many years ago, and thought it was okay, not great. I definitely will stay away from this one.

  8. I appreciate your honest thoughts on this book. It's been sitting on my shelves for awhile, the mixed reviews I saw early on making me hesitant to pick it up. You've certainly made me curious about it, though.

  9. Thanks for such an honest review! I've heard good things about Quindlen, but will skip this one. I'm not a fan of senseless tragedy, that's for sure!

  10. Thanks for your honest review. Unfortunately, I don't think this book is for me..

  11. THEBOOKGIRL: I liked Black and Blue but I was working with domestic violence victims. I also liked a few of Quindlen's other early works and she was a great journalist.

    ANNA: There are a lot of good reviews for it so you may like it. I found it different gtom her older books which I liked a lot. I'm interested in what you think when you read it!

  12. MEG: I think her earlier books were better! Thank you for stopping by my blog!

    IRISONBOOKS: I think there are much better books out there to spend your time on...happier too!

  13. What a shame this didn't work out for you -- I really enjoyed this one, and I felt comfortable with the first part. I think it was because I thought it was going to be one of those quiet and pleasant reads, so I just plodded along and just sort of enjoyed the day to day interactions that she was having. So when when the tragedy happens, it completely unhinged me and all of the expectations that I was having for it. It did keep me thinking about it for awhile, though!