Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan is a quiet book about an old woman, Emily, who lives in Pittsburgh alone. Her husband died years ago and her children and grandchildren live far away. Emily Alone painstakingly documents what old people face living independently – what Emily does, what she thinks, where she goes, who she goes with, and how she gets there. It is a slow burn of a book, heartbreaking yet affirming.
There isn’t much of a plot, but that makes sense, as retired people don’t have a heck of a lot of activity. When I started the book I assumed that much of the book would consist of flashbacks to fill in Emily’s life, so we would get to know about her life, how she met her husband, her marriage, and her children. The author avoids this, and I think he is right to do so. We can’t escape from Emily’s current existence – how she perseverates about a scratch on her car, her fear of falling when she walks her dog, how she plans for her grandchildrens’ visits, how she enjoys chatting with her maid when she cleans the house. Although a quiet book, it is absolutely worth reading.
Rating: *** (out of ****)