Sunday, September 5, 2010

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

My Hurricane Earl day was spent reading Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, which I finished by (faux) candelight before the power went back on. I am familiar with Ms. Quindlen as a commentator and knew that she was an author but have never had the pleasure of reading one of her novels before. She is a beautiful writer, and drew me into her book on the very first page, on which she talks about getting up early every day before the rest of the household to have some tme to herself so that she can "rest without sleeping, think without deciding, speak and hear my own voice". These few words so elegantly capture the lives of mothers and wives who don't have time for themselves as they make sure that everyone else in the family is cared for.

Just a few pages later she writes about her daughter's sense of style and how she admires it but is a "little intimidated by it, as thought I had discovered we had incompatible blood types". What a wonderful--and unexpected--analogy.

The author later writes about a woman talking to her husband, an opthamologist, about the colors of people's eyes, commnting that he must see a vast range. "Eye color's not clinically significant," he replies. This exchange encapsulates the difference in the way most women and men look at the world, at least in my experience--the beauty versus the facts.

When tragedy strikes, Quindlen's protagaonist struggles to put her life back together. I don't want to go into the storyline here but it was engrossing and compelling. Jodi Piccoult's themes come to mind, and while I enjoy her writing, I would put Quindlen head and shoulders above her in the beauty of her language.

It is rare to find a writer with such a command of the English language. When I was talking with my voracious reading friend Pat Hackett about Olive Kitteredge, we wondered why it won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. We both felt that the writing was fine--certainly not that of a hack--but it wasn't compelling. I think the word that Pat used was "proficient", which captures my feeling precisely. Perhaps it was the originality of the approach that Strout took in that book (the short story-like format) which won the judges over. For my dollar, though, I'll take Quindlen any time, and I look forward to reading her other works.

Postscript:  In the NY Times Readers' Greetings section appearing on November 26, 2010, the Times' three book reviewers each chose their top ten favorite reads for 2010.  Janet Maslin named Every Last One as one of a few books that could not be on the list because it was a colleague's work.  Brilliant!

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