Every Last One
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". . .people are too caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day living to appreciate what they have.
Beautiful writing that lacks emotion.
Mary Beth Latham’s family is happy. She has her landscaping business and her husband Glen his ophthalmology practice. Ruby, the oldest, will go to college and the twins, Max and Alex, will go to high school in the fall. There are the usual problems with teenagers: boyfriends and the differences that become more apparent between the twins as they get older and follow their own talents and paths. But there are also problems, difficulties that cannot be solved by talking or being ready to listen, dangerous problems that everyone sees and doesn’t do anything about because it does not seem out of the ordinary. Growing up is hard.
The signs were there and everyone was too busy to read and do anything about them. Tragedy followed and everyone suffered.
For the first two-thirds of Every Last One Anna Quindlen’s main character, Mary Beth Latham, recounts the life and times of her family at a slow and dreamy place. As lovely as some of the story sounds, there is no connection between the narrator and the reader. It is as though Mary Beth is completely disconnected.
The writing is beautiful and at times evokes a poignant moment or two wrapped in layers of cotton batting like a Christmas ornament packed away. The story is bloodless. The characters move behind thick panes of glass at a distance, watery, ghostly images that fret their moment upon the page and wander listlessly off.
What should have been a horrific moment is underwhelming as though it happened across the world to strangers. The moment lacks clarity and edge. Most of the book follows in the same vein. Mary Beth is as complacent about having the entire plantings of one house either destroyed or stolen and having to do it all over again with a grumbling crew as she is about the most significant moment in her life. It is as if she is on drugs. She is.
If Quindlen’s intention was to show a woman so divorced from reality and her family that she is as integral as an innocent bystander, she succeeded admirably. It is not until the final pages of Every Last One that some sense of connection becomes obvious, and even that is watered down. In spite of Quindlen’s masterful skill in creating believable characters and memorable moments, Every Last One should be taken as a sleeping aid. The glacial pace could be forgiven if the main character really cared enough to show how much her life meant to her.
I am reminded of the moment in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town when Emily has died and wants to relive one day of her life. She is warned not to choose a special day, but Emily chooses her birthday. Her mother bustles around the house doing chores and getting the children off to school and fails to see the beauty in each passing moment. Emily is heartbroken and cannot understand how someone could fail to appreciate the heartbreaking beauty of living. In that sense, Quindlen succeeds admirably, proving that people are too caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day living to appreciate what they have.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell