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 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.
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In her latest, Quindlen (Rise and Shine) once again plumbs the searing emotions of ordinary people caught in tragic circumstances. Mary Beth Latham is a happily married woman entirely devoted to her three teenaged children. When her talented daughter Ruby casually announces she's breaking up with her boyfriend Kirenan, a former neighbor who's become like family, Mary Beth is slightly alarmed, but soon distracted by her son Max, who's feeling overshadowed by his extroverted, athletic twin brother Alex. Quindlen's novel moves briskly, propelled by the small dramas of summer camp, proms, soccer games and neighbors, until the rejected Kirenan blindsides the Lathams, and the reader, with an incredible act of violence. Left with almost nothing, Mary Beth struggles to cope with loss and guilt, protect what she has left, and regain a sense of meaning. Quindlen is in classic form, with strong characters and precisely cadenced prose that builds in intensity.
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Anna Quindlen takes on everyday drama
Anna Quindlen’s previous novels have all been centered on families—whether average, non-traditional or dysfunctional; she even calls herself “hyperdomestic.” It comes as no surprise, then, that her sixth novel, Every Last One, begins with a lengthy description of the minutiae of the everyday life of Mary Beth Latham—wife, mother of three teenagers and owner of a successful landscaping business.
Her husband Glen, an ophthalmologist, eats the same thing every morning and leaves for work at the same time. Ruby, their “beautiful and distinctive” 17-year-old daughter, is a free spirit who aspires to be a poet. The 14-year-old twins, Alex and Max, are complete opposites of one another, manifested by the line painted down the center of their bedroom, dividing it into halves of light blue and lime green. Every day, Mary Beth tells us, is “Average. Ordinary.”
But looking beneath the placid surface of their lives, we learn of a few worrisome details. Ruby has been through a bout of anorexia—which is now, with a therapist’s help, in the past—and she has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend Kiernan, who is not taking the ending of their relationship well. Max is finding it increasingly difficult being the nerdy, moody twin of the handsome, popular Alex, proficient in three sports. All three children go away to camp that summer, but when Max has to come home early with a broken arm, he becomes depressed enough to see Ruby’s therapist. Kiernan begins showing up at the house again, ostensibly to keep Max company, but his presence feels creepy to Mary Beth, and she asks him to end his visits. The situation becomes increasingly awkward over the fall, with Ruby asking Kiernan to just leave her in peace. On New Year’s things take a violent turn, one which Mary Beth relives over and over, wondering if she could have prevented the horrific outcome.
Quindlen explores Mary Beth’s altered life with such acute empathy that readers can palpably experience her anguish and agonize over each step she takes in her slow recovery as if it were their own. She has penned an unforgettable novel about one woman realizing her worst fears, and then somehow finding the strength to survive.