Sunday, July 11, 2010

Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen

Just got back from visiting my brother and his family in California. I hadn't seen them for 13 years. The history of our estrangement is so long and complicated that neither one of us can clearly recall its origins. So often life is like this -- a narrative that intertwines the stories we tell ourselves about our hurts from the past with the facts of the present. Those unaired hurts amplify, and leave marks, like wounds that never heal. As my brother and I reflected on our past hurts, there didn't seem to be one pivotal moment that altered our paths. It was more like our past was a trail littered with misunderstandings and silence. As I work at owning my part in creating the rift between us -- something that is long overdue -- I can see that I have said and done so many hurtful things. During my recent visit our relationship didn't magically heal; we didn't become the close-knit family I had always dreamed we might be. As much as I wished for that, I knew it would be unrealistic to expect such a turn. Instead, we created a bridge. It's a narrow bridge, but one that spans the distance between us. My hope is that the conversations between us continue and the bridge that connects us widens.

I think most stories in life are like this, they don't distill into an easy, even slicing of time into a before and an after, either in the rift or the resolution. Sometimes, though, life dishes out an event so dramatic that one moment changes everything that comes after it forever. Anna Quindlen's new book, "Every Last One" tells such a story, one in which a life transformed by a single stunning moment. In the first half of the book, Quindlen puts a magnifying glass on the daily struggles of an upper-middle-class family. She paints the picture of the family with a fine brush, describing the subtle interplay between the physician father, the self-starter mom with a thriving landscaping business, their artsy, teenage daughter recently recovered from bulimia, their confident, sports obsessed son, and another son who becomes increasingly depressed as the story progresses. "Every Last One" is told through the eyes of the overprotective, helicoptering mother. As Quindlen details the mother's endlessly spinning anxieties about her children's well being, the writing was so true to life, so familiar, that I started to actually feel uncomfortable, as if a mirror was being held up to my own interior landscape. The telling was brutally honest and real, but, by the middle of the book I was feeling tired of the worrying, the never ending flow of maternal anxiety was starting to become a bit tedious.

But, just then, just when I was wondering if I would be able to make it through "Every Last One,".....ta, da!....something happens. The last half of the book is all about what happens after that pivotal moment, and it's a riveting story that I will not spoil.

Just as in Quindlen's story, life takes us all on myriad twists and turns. We might take an active role in creating drama or alternatively, the drama might unfold completely out of our control. Either way, and whether or not the drama comes suddenly, or is something more drawn out and murky, the most interesting part is what we decide to do next.

1 comment:

  1. This one I have to read and your review moved it up on my list!