Every Last One
2010 / Random House
Review by Michael Debbage
This is the first of Anna Quindlen’s novels that I’ve read, although I’ve been interested in them for years. Every Last One is told in first-person by Mary Beth Latham, mother of three (pre-teen fraternal twin boys and an artistic 17-year-old daughter), wife of an opthamologist, and small business owner. Quindlen does an amazing job of keeping the story strictly from Mary Beth’s perspective and showing the cast of characters as she sees and experiences them. The reader is never allowed to see who these characters are outside of Mary Beth’s head, but most of them are three-dimensional and “real” despite this bias - a strong credit to the author. The first half of the novel moves along smoothly as we get to know and care about each member of The Latham Family and their daily lives. Mary Beth knows that her life is good, but there is a small undercurrent of wistful dissatisfaction that rings true. Her marriage is strong and her husband is faithful and reliable, but something is missing. Her efforts to help her twin sons grow as individuals backfires a bit when Alex overshadows Max with his outgoing personality, athletic abilities, and popularity. Max becomes depressed and distant, although he has his own world of music and more internal activities. Her daughter, Ruby, is the budding writer Mary Beth had hoped to become, so she enjoys Ruby’s early successes without jealousy or regret. The Latham home is where many of the kids’ friends meet to hang out, and Mary Beth has a close relationship with several of Ruby’s friends. As a reader, I was enjoying the ride immensely, seeing the kids doing well and developing into healthy young adults, so it was an enormous shock when tragedy turned this world upside down. Because the story is from Mary Beth’s perspective, we are not given details about the event itself, and while she is recovering physically, details are sketchy and unclear due to her medications and the trauma of trying to get her head around what has happened. Very gradually, Mary Beth is able to accept that her life is dramatically changed forever and she slowly rebuilds both internally and externally. She is a survivor in more ways than one, but must start anew.
The second half of this book is wrenching since we have gotten to know Mary Beth intimately. It matters what she is thinking and feeling, so we experience her pain and loss almost as intensely as she does. Mary Beth is human and we love her for that even though she has made many mistakes along the way - who hasn’t? I found the book very difficult to leave alone and recommend it highly.
April 8, 2010