Skip to main content

Every Last One

Review

Every Last One

Mary Beth Latham, the protagonist of Anna Quindlen’s new
novel, EVERY LAST ONE, is self-aware enough to realize how lucky
she is. Her husband, Glen, is a doctor, and her landscaping
business is successful, although the realities of some of her
Hispanic workers’ hard lives sometimes pinch her conscience.
Her troubles with her three teenaged children --- Ruby, defiant and
formerly anorexic; and Max, the awkward and depressed twin of jock
Alex --- are made more manageable by access to good therapists.
Mary Beth doesn’t spend too much time (although, like most of
us moms, she spends a little!) wondering how much of their issues
are her fault.

Her long-term marriage is stable, and if it’s not as
exciting as she sometimes wishes, she wisely realizes that romance
ebbs and flows with time. “Neither of us seems to want to do
it much anymore, but when we do it’s fine. I do things
I’ve been doing for years. He does, too. They still work.
They just seem a little beside the point, like reading a book for
the sixth time.”

This matter-of-fact, knowing narrative continues, establishing a
link, perhaps, with the many female book buyers who share Mary
Beth’s concerns. We can feel both her frustration with
Ruby’s moodiness and her pride in Ruby’s ambition and
writing talent. She worries that lonely, awkward Max suffers in
comparison to his successful athletic brother, Alex. Like many
mothers, she often feels that her attempts to help her children
backfire. Yet, as she narrates the prosaic ins and outs of their
lives, the reader senses that a harrowing event is coming, maybe
even craves it. And come it does, just about halfway through the
novel.

Overnight, on New Year’s Eve, Mary Beth’s
comfortable upper-middle-class life is turned upside down by a
shocking act of violence, and the meat of this book pertains to how
she copes and eventually begins to heal. Mary Beth must learn to
live with loss and fear. This is a gradual process, and Quindlen
presents it in a similarly gradual fashion --- in little slices,
like how it feels dishonest the first time a smile comes almost
naturally, and how hard work is sometimes the only thing that can
bring solace.

Mary Beth is so sane, so lucid, that I never doubted she would
find a way through her pain. Still, the ending moved me, and I
agree with her realization that all our fears are related to the
primal fear of death. At one point Mary Beth reflects on a client
who is “not a patient man.... He doesn’t want anything
to grow; he wants it to appear. I hate the notion; what I love
about my work, and I suppose my life, is the slow inevitable
progression.” EVERY LAST ONE is also a slow, inevitable
progression, albeit a skillful and insightful journey into a
mother’s love and dealing with unimaginable loss.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 21, 2011

Every Last One
by Anna Quindlen

  • Publication Date: April 13, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 299 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1400065747
  • ISBN-13: 9781400065745