Monday, April 19, 2010

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Quotidian (adjective)
1.  daily
2.  usual or customary; everyday
3.  ordinary; commonplace

The first half of Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is best described with the adjective quotidian.  Mary Beth Latham and her family (husband, Glen; daughter, Ruby; twin sons, Alex and Max) go through the daily routine so familiar to anyone who has had kids in middle school and high school and who remembers (fondly or not) the soccer games and practices, the having to be at opposite ends of the town at the exact same time, the crises of young love, etc.  And so, the first half of Every Last One lulled me into this family's life, enjoying the conversations between Mary Beth and Glen as they handled the ups and downs.  Then, suddently, I am post-quotidian and launched into the unfamiliar needs of healing and rebuilding hope and love.

Here is where I normally post an editorial review by either Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, or Booklist.  After reading the reviews of Every Last One, I have decided they give away too much information.  Every Last One is a book that every reader needs to experience as it happens.  I do hope, however, that you will check out the wonderfully thoughtful review Les posted at Lesley's Book Nook and the video files posted here.

On prom attire
Kiernan found a sky-blue tuxedo at the thrift store at which Ruby struck out on a dress.  It came with a ruffled shirt, a cummerbund, and an enormous bow tie.  Ruby said the bow tie looks like a butterfly.  I know exactly what Kiernan will look like.  He will look like James McGhee, the boy who took me to my prom.  He wore that self-same tuxedo.  I remember finding an old photograph of the two of us posed in front of two freestanding Styrofoam Corinthian pillars that had been set up in the hotel hallway, and thinking what a good thing it was that the classic black tux had come back into style, and that the sort of Empire-waist dress I was wearing had gone out of fashion.  Now Kiernan is wearing the blue tux, and Ruby and all her friends wear dresses with Empire waists.  I am trying to learn to take nothing for granted.

On family changes
My brother, Richard, and I were two people related by blood, with little in common.  When he left for college, it was as though the pond of our family had rippled slightly, then closed around the disturbance and become smooth again. 

On lovers' ghosts
Kiernan will finish his senior year in high school, and he will go away to college, and he will become something fine and true:  a beloved teacher, perhaps, or the sort of lawyer who represents the indigent.  He will have a life in which this one seems merely like the sort of dream that is vivid at the moment of waking and has vanished by the time you've had your coffee.  But this day my daughter has cast him out of the closest thing to paradise he has known, our kitchen.  To us it seems so ordinary, so little to have, but I have seen in his eyes...the glitter of yearning, and felt sad that the best we could offer was a kind of borrowing.  Kiernan had believed he could turn the borrowing into ownership.  And from time to time as he grows older, he will remember Ruby Latham, and how he loved her, and how he lost her.  Every other girl will have a Ruby ghost hovering over her without her knowing it.

On a window on the world
There were four panes of bright light aslant on our ceiling from a white June moon.  The light through this window, the smell of the air, the witchy line of a tree branch that has insinuated itself into the sight line of my side of the bed:  this is how I track the seasons.  I can't say why, but when I see those squares of light on the ceiling I feel as though all will be well.

On the butterfly effect
Once Ruby and I were sitting in the yard, watching the monarchs swarm the bee balm.  It must have been early September, one of those slow late-summer days when school had just begun yet everything felt tentative--the textbook unopened, the sweaters still packed into their plastic beneath the bed.  Ruby loved to tell me things I didn't know, and that afternoon, as we sipped lemonade and scuffed our bare feet through the shaggy grass, she had told me about the butterfly effect, how the beating of their wings in Mexico could cause a breeze in our backyard.  "That's kind of terrifying," I replied.  But even as I spoke I realized that that was what we had all believed from the moment we had children.  The breast-fed baby became the confident adult.  The toddler who listened to a bedtime story went on to a doctorate.  We flapped our wings in our kitchens, and a wind blew through their futures.

This was a one-day read for me.  I was completely drawn in to the Latham family and sat rivited, tissues in hand, while seeing how everything came out on the other side. 

Rating:  4.5/5 (Fiction Scale)  Note:  My copy of Every Last One is on its way to my friend Suzanne.  I have a very personal question to ask her after she finishes, and her answer could mean a change in my rating.

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