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 ****)
The Road Not Taken
Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings is a buzzy book. Having read lots of great reviews and several of Wolitzer’s prior books, I reserved my copy at the library and waited a month or two. My ship book came in last week.
It was worth the wait. The Interestings is the best book I have read in 2013 thus far. The theme of the book is The Road Not Taken. The book starts at an Arts Camp in the Berkshires and follows a handful of smart, sophisticated characters from adolescence through midlife. What happens when we think we are, excuse the expression, Hot Shit when we are young, and we fail to succeed? This happens to everybody to some degree; part of the heartbreak of growing up is the realization that the sky is not the limit, that talent is rare, that we will not become a professional baseball players or ballerinas. What happens when we commit to a relationship, but always wonder what would have happened had we chosen someone else? The Interestings successfully explores these questions.
Part of the reason I liked the book so much is that it is a theme that I – a 48 year old woman who just had a mini-midlife crisis via a disastrous short-lived job change – can relate to. But it is more than that. The Interestings succeeds on many levels. The characters are wonderful. The plot is strong. The book is engagingly written. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. And the theme, as I mentioned, is great, interesting (as befits the title!), thought-provoking, and beautifully realized.
Rating: **** (out of ****)
Drunk Dialing and Driving
I read The Good House in a day. Here is the first sentence: “I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions.” Loved the lead! Liked the book.
The novel recounts the travails of Hildy Good, a successful realtor in an affluent North Shore Boston suburb. Hildy is a townie, and the novel deftly explores what it’s like to live in a town overrun by wealthy newcomers seeking “authenticity.” Having grown up in this kind of town, I can relate.
But the main theme of the book is alcoholism. Hildy is recently out of rehab, which she grudgingly went to after an intervention from her family. Have I mentioned that this book is funny? A funny book about alcoholism which poignantly relates the collateral damage of the disease is no easy feat.
The book is worth reading because of the character of Hildy. The plot, which has to do with an implausible friendship between Hildy and a young Mom new to the town, is OK. But it doesn’t matter. Hildy is a wonderful character, and well worth getting to know.
Rating: *** (out of ****)