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.