Every Last One – Anna Quindlen

Although you know better, you muddle along each day, taking life for granted.   It’s how everyone survives.  And then the unexpected happens…

Anna Quindlen is an expert at drawing you in, making you feel comfortable, part of the family. In Every Last One, you become immersed in the trivia of the Latham family, but, rather than being bored, you become part of their lives.   Expectations are low because you know what is happening; it’s all very Ozzie and Harriet – middle class parents trying to survive their teen-age children.

Mary Beth Latham is the novel’s star. She gave up dreams of writing when she married young.  Her daughter Ruby, who is now a talented and aspiring writer, is the high school literary magazine editor. Glen plays the stalwart husband – someone you’d see in a television series of the fifties.   Twin sons complete the portrait – Alex, the young jock, and Max, the brooding drummer.   Other characters come in and out of the scenes – friends and relatives who are only there to move the action.

For one hundred fifty pages, you are lulled into complacency. You expect something will happen, and when it does, everything changes.  Shock and then a numbing effect – like sleepwalking toward an ending that couldn’t get worse, you hope.   Suddenly, you are reading a different book; get out the box of tissues.

The book is all about coping, surviving, and living on. And the message is an old one that is usually ignored: appreciate what you have while you have it.   Through Mary Beth Latham, Quindlen offers the chance to think about how impossible it is to see beneath the tip of the iceberg of human emotions – “…The point is that I don’t know anything, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to know…ninety percent is under the surface…”

Quindlen’s hallmark is not so much the plot line or the characters, but the philosophical gems included between the lines.    So many notes that ring true –

“…We sit with people, and we tell them things, and we make up their lives in our heads, and we really know nothing about them…”

This is the author who wrote A Short Guide to A Happy Life, second only to Dr. Seuss’s The Places You Will Go, as a graduation gift  for words of wisdom.

So, read Every Last One, not for the story, but for the insights and maybe a catharsis of your own.