Monday, January 28, 2013

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Simon and Schuster Audio
Narrated by Hope Davis
Length: 10 hours 5 minutes


Mary Beth Latham is the central hub around which the rest of her family radiates. From her tender and supportive husband, to the twin teenage boys who couldn’t be more different from each other, to her confident and triumphant daughter Ruby, Mary Beth is the crux of her familial wheel. But lately, things have felt like they are getting just a touch out of control. While Mary Beth’s marriage is as rock steady as it’s always been, having three teenagers in the house is causing her to reevaluate the life she’s leading, as well as the lives of her children. Her twin boys seem to be having issues with each other: Max beginning to spiral into depression while Alex is always finding a way to harangue him for being different. Ruby, her incredibly charismatic and successful daughter, is just about to graduate from high school and is thinking about breaking up with her longtime friend and boyfriend, Kiernan. This causes problems for both mother and daughter, for Kiernan is a sad boy who is having trouble with his own family. Over the course of the book, Max seems to become more and more glum, forcing Mary Beth’s attention to be directed towards him in an attempt to help guide and nurture him. So engrossed in this situation, Mary Beth misses other warning signs, and before she can realize what’s happening, her family is shattered by a deep act of violence that she never saw coming. Mary Beth’s attempt to pick up the pieces and go on with her life for the sake of her family is the emotional ride that forms the heart of this novel. As she painfully moves forward, trying her best to normalize life again, she reflects deeply on the things that happened on the one tragic night that her eyes slid away from the truth that was right in front of her—the night that everything fell apart.

When this book initially came on the scene, I read many reviews with growing enthusiasm. It seemed that everyone loved it and were very deeply moved by Mary Beth’s story. I let the book linger for a rather long time on my shelf but decided to grab an audio version because of my recent success with the format and the incredible hype that this book produced in its readers. Hope Davis did a magnificent job narrating this story. She was a very believeable Mary Beth, and through the various permutations of plot and emotion, she had a vocal presence that commanded attention. Her vocal style went from confident to overwhelmed to broken-hearted without any preamble or awkwardness, and it was because of her stellar narration that I was able to really submerse myself fully into this tale of a mother’s heartbreak.

There’s a lot I won’t be able to say in this review, so those in fear of spoilers, have no worries. The plot ambles from gentle and robust to tragic and impactful in the blink of an eye, and takes its readers to the center of the protagonist’s heart and mind, blowing past former obstacles in one fell swoop. It was amazing how much gravity this book contained. The once carefree wife and mother of three thrown into a chasm of doubt, guilt and horror, and though there was support everywhere, Mary Beth faced most of her fear and pain alone, allowing no one entrance into her fragile existence. This was the kind of book that shocks its readers out of their complacency and makes them take a look into the darker and more troublesome parts of life.

Each part of this book hinges upon the other like a series of steps on a ladder, and it’s only when the climax hits that readers can look back and see the warning signs that they, and Mary Beth, have overlooked. It’s a frightening spiral downward, everything taking on a portentous tone that rings through the narrative like a pealing bell. With candor and fervor, Davis masterfully powers through the myriad complexity that Quindlen creates in this heartbreaking and beautiful novel. What starts out as a family drama evolves into a tale of memory, reminiscence and loss that captivated me and kept me riveted, trying to figure out where Quindlen would navigate to next.

This is a dense novel, filled with sadness and loss, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no humor and buoyancy in the plot. On the contrary, there are moments of laughter and great amounts of lightness in the early sections of the book. After the tragic incident takes place, it’s almost as if the book shifts genre and style into something more weighty and pressing. Every Last One is a book that takes the alien aches and hindrances of loss and shoots them straight into the reader’s heart, effectively breaking it, only to loosely patch it together again.

If you’re looking for a book that will not fail to move you, this is the one. I think mothers in particular will relate to the early Mary Beth and watch her growing situations with careworn alarm and genuine sympathy. It’s a brilliant piece of fiction that deserves all the praise that it has gotten. I know that it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it is a book that will never leave me. Tremendously powerful and masterfully moving, this is a novel that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. A tour de force of modern literature.

20 comments:

Jenny said...

I haven't read Anna Quindlen in a while but I need to keep her books in mind. This one sounds intense!

Wall-to-wall books said...

Good review Heather. I do like sad books. I guess they make me feel very lucky to have my normal boring life!
I have seen this book around the blog circuit.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This was a great read! I remember it shocking me, powerful words.

Wendy said...

Great review of this amazing book, Heather. This book ripped the heart out of my chest. I literally SOBBED while reading it, for pages and pages. It still is with me months and months after I read it. A real "wow" type of book.

Suko said...

Wow! Every Last One sounds very engaging and heartbreaking. It seems to capture the realities of raising children with sensitivity and without resorting to generalities or clich├ęs. Excellent review!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I totally agree. This one SHATTERED my very soul.

Jenners said...

So good, wasn't it? And Hope Davis did a stellar job. She became Mary Beth for me. And the weariness and sadness in her voice … she really nailed it and made a wonderful book even more special.

Athira said...

I once started reading a Quindlen book and thought it was very captivating! I didn't finish it but she's on my list of authors to try soon!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

My first Quindlen book was Blessings...many moons ago but I loved it. Another favorite of hers was the audio version of Good Dog, Stay. I need to pick this one up. Thanks for the reminder :)

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Definitely adding this to my audio wish list. Great review, Heather!

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

inevitably I will read a review, write a really long reply on my phone...hit submit...and then get the dreaded "sign in"....and its in those moments that I realize everything is on automatic and I can't for the life of me recall my password so by the time I get back around to the blog post I answered, then my answer has disappeared! Needless to say, this happened to me earlier today...and I wanted someone else to feel my pain (and give you a good laugh!)

But what I did write earlier (and much more eloquently) is that I have avoided Quindlan's novels ever since reading Black & Blue. I was working with victims of domestic violence when I read the book and found some of Quindlan's characterizations to be stereotypical rather than actually psychological. That's been years ago and books ago. Your review now has me first - dying to know what the tragedy is; and secondly - wanting to determine if I'm over my disenchantment with her from the Black & Blue novel. I hope so - I'd love to recommend this one for my book club. We are all moms with a kid range from newborn to 22. I can only imagine the conversation starters we'd have if its even a fraction of how good you say it is. So, Heather, you've talked me into it! I'll let you know what I think!

Book Dilettante said...

Sounds like a very intense novel as serious books about teens tend to be. Nice review.
Book Dilettante

Amy Meyer said...

I've missed your reviews, Heather. This is another terrific one and you describe how the book flows and changes wonderfully.. I read this book over a year ago and I still think about it. It wasn't a particular favorite of mine but it shocked me quite a bit. I thought Anna Quindlen did a masterful job with the character of Mary Beth.

Some day I think I will listen to this audio with Hope Davis. She's a remarkably talented actress and I'm interested to hear her as a character in a great book.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one sounds like a book I would really enjoy. I haven't read any of her books. Great review!

Lisa said...

Wow, Heather -what a fantastic review! You've summed up this book so eloquently. It was as a mother that I read this one; I related to the family and Mary Beth so much. It really is a book that makes you feel every emotion.

Beth F said...

I love Quindlen's nonfiction, but I haven't read this one. As others said, fantastic review! You've convinced me to give this a go.

Elizabeth said...

I have liked Quindlen's work in the past, so will be interested to see how I find this novel. I have a feeling I should have some kleenix handy!

Darlene said...

As you know I loved this book. It's one of my favourites of hers and I've read almost all of them. I read the paper version though and I'll have to pick up the audio since this is one book I wouldn't mind experiencing again. Glad you liked it too Heather.

Booklogged said...

What a beautifully written review. This book beckons to me as I once was a mother of 3 teenage daughters. Thank heaven that time is past and no they are all in their 30s. The downward spiral scares me a bit - afraid I'll see too much of myself it it. At any rate I'm going to see if my library has the audio version.

Booklogged said...

Yeah, my library has the audio version. Thanks for the recommend, Zibilee.

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