Anna Quindlen is a very talented writer. I knew that from reading her newspaper and magazine columns through the years, and from reading one of her earlier novels, Black and Blue, which looks domestic violence square in the eye and lives to tell about it. So I maybe should have expected that the lull I fell into when I started reading Every Last One wouldn’t last. Through the first 100-plus pages of this novel, I found myself getting a little impatient with what seemed like a typical Mom’s Midlife Crisis book, with the mom in question, MaryBeth, juggling her landscape business with her less-than-passionate marriage and her oh-so-modern kids: the teenage girl who yearns to be a Writer and the fraternal twin boys who couldn’t be less alike.
But even when the plot seemed a bit pedestrian, Quindlen’s turns of phrase were anything but, such as when MaryBeth contemplates how her growing children and husband no longer need her the way they once did:
Sometimes I feel as though the entire point of a woman’s life is to fall in love with people who will leave her. The only variation I can see is the ones who fight the love, and the ones who fight the leaving. It’s too late for me to be the first, and I’m trying not to be the second.”
But just when I was figuratively rolling my hand in a “c’mon, get on with it” gesture, Quindlen turns the whole setup on its head in a way that left me gasping out loud, in a good way. I won’t say more about that; I’ve already said too much (though apparently not as much as the dust jacket blurb, which many reviewers have cited as an unwelcome spoiler). In fact, don’t run out and read Every Last One right now. Wait a few months until all you remember is that I told you that you must read it, but you don’t remember why. You can thank me later.