Review: Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Every Last One “In this breathtaking and beautiful novel, the #1 New York Times bestselling author Anna Quindlen creates an unforgettable portrait of a mother, a father, a family, and the explosive, violent consequences of what seem like inconsequential actions.
Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another. Ultimately, in the hands of Anna Quindlen’s mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.” –

As a fan of Anna Quindlen (author of Black and Blue and One True Thing), I was so looking forward to reading Every Last One – but I feel that she seemed to have just missed the mark here. First of all, scroll back up to the top of this page and reread the book summary. “…when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence.” I immediately assumed that this book was all about Max and his mental state, and that at some point he climbs up a clock tower and starts taking people out. Ah, but I was oh, so wrong – and I felt… betrayed, almost, when things took an entirely different turn. Perhaps it is not Quindlen’s fault, after all, but the book blurb writer’s… Hmmmm… I’ll have to think about that.

Every Last One starts off at a slow burn – the first third of the book is simply about Mary Beth Latham, her husband Glen, and their three teenagers, living an everyday life. They appear to be a happy family – they are close-knit, etc. The Latham household is where all the kids come to hang out. Mary Beth is doing her best to care for her family, to support her three teenagers as they grow and move through adolescence toward independent lives. Nothing outstanding happens in this first third of the book – Ruby breaks up with her longtime boyfriend, Max becomes depressed and the Lathams deal with that, Mary Beth blabs on and on about random things that have no meaning, there’s a Halloween party, Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas, and then – KABLAM!

Close to the middle of the novel, we are hit with a shocking twist (one that I will not reveal here) that blows everyone – including the reader – out of the water. And the thing is, with the sloooooowly moving beginning, you never even see it coming. Something so shocking – and so unexpected – that it literally took my breath away. I couldn’t help wondering how, as a mother, I would work through something like this. How would I hold my family together? How would I move on? I still do not know the answer to these questions.

Quindlen begins to truly focus on Mary Beth after this tragic event – her character becomes much more fully developed. We are given glimpses of her inner struggle with her grief, as she grapples with issues that I imagine face many mothers and wives. Particularly saddening is watching her tormented with self-blame as she questions whether past actions of her own somehow contributed to this awful, awful event.

The thing is, though… Quindlen never quite hits things on the right key for me here. I wasn’t emotionally invested in this story, as I often am; instead, I felt as though I were watching it from afar. Her writing is, as always, superb and she obviously knew where she was going with things, but to me the story seemed to be one big blur of random thoughts. Although, in hindsight, perhaps that was Quindlen’s intention, as Mary Beth’s state of mind in this situation might be rather blurred. Hmmm. In fact, in hindsight, I can even see why she so very slowly built up to the tragedy – because she did want to blindside the reader, much as Mary Beth was blindsided. Oooh, y’all, I just had an Aha! moment!

Every Last One is not a feel-good book. You’re not going to finish reading it and sigh and ponder the greatness of life. It is blue, very blue, and if you are blue then perhaps you should wait a bit to read this one. For me, this was definitely a cloudy-day, cuddle-up-on-the-couch and read all afternoon kind of book. Make sure you’re stocked up on tea and hot cocoa…

3 stars, sweethearts

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia Digital Library

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