I have been a fan of Anna Quindlen ever since she was a columnist for the New York Times. I knew I had found a kindred spirit when I read her column about appearing perfect on the outside but on the inside, if you only knew . . . her skirt hem is held up with safety pins, and under one of her her tall, fashionable boots is a big run in her pantyhose (this was years ago when women still wore pantyhose). Or, open the door to the cabinet in her neat and tidy living room and all manner of odd things come tumbling out.
Given her accomplishments in the world of non-fiction, I was surprised - but delighted - to learn that Quindlen had switched to fiction. I think she is as good, or better, fiction writer than she was a columnist.
Anna Quindlen knows families, be they blended ("Blessings"), strongly ethnic ("Object Lessons"), dysfunctional ("One True Thing"), abusive ("Black and Blue"), or closely-knit, as in this book, "Every Last One".
Not only are the Lathams a close family, they also appear almost perfect to the outside world. But as that long-ago column attests, no one is perfect, nothing is perfect. Mary Beth is a devoted mother and wife, but is her squeaky-clean image all that it seems to be, or is it really tarnished? The oldest child, 17-year-old Ruby, is a golden girl: beautiful, a gifted writer, beloved friend and respected student, but there is trouble lurking near her. Junior-high-schooler Alex is a terrific athlete and popular kid, but his fraternal brother Max, is a loner and outsider who is on the fringe and struggling with depression.
The Latham home is a haven for the children's friends and neighbors, the kind of house that kids love to hang out at. But these kids have secrets too, including Ruby's best girlfriends and Kiernan, who's been super close to Ruby from a very young age.
It would not be a spoiler to say that tragedy strikes the Lathams. The cover blurb itself tells of a "shocking act of violence" that alters the family forever. I am certainly not going to reveal that act, as some reviewers have done. I will say that Mary Beth should have known the warning signs - the signals were very clear and there were clues everywhere.
Because I don't want to give anything else away, I am not going to write much more about "Every Last One". But just because this is a fairly short review, don't think that I didn't like this book, because I loved it. Not only does Anna Quindlen know families, she understands people, especially women. She is comfortable with them and conveys that comfort to her readers. Mary Beth is one the most living, breathing characters Quindlen has ever written, and that is saying a lot. Mary Beth's is a fully-limned portrait of a woman whose life had seemed perfectly mapped out but whose compass has been lost. At the end of the book, a pathway is cut through the woods between two families' homes. I thought this was an excellent parallel with Mary Beth's situation. Mary Beth has had to find entirely new bearings, but her way now seems a bit more certain, less obstructed, more sure-footed, and a little less dark.