"This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas. My husband stirs briefly next to me, turns over, blinks, and falls back to sleep for another hour. My robe lies at the foot of the bed, printed cotton in the summer, tufted chenille for the cold. The coffeemaker comes on in the kitchen below as I leave the bathroom, go downstairs in bare feet, pause to put away a pair of boots left splayed in the downstairs back hallway and to lift the newspaper from the back step."
The opening lines quoted above exemplify one of the notable qualities of Anna Quindlen's novel Every Last One - the details, every last one. The author uses the proverbial thousand words, and then some, to create a fully realized picture of the day-to-day life of the Latham family - mom and business owner Mary Beth, doctor dad Glen, and their three busy teenagers, daughter Ruby and fraternal-twin sons Alex and Max. The Latham house is a second home to many of their children's friends as well, particularly Ruby's. The family has its issues, but for the most part they're close-knit, functional, and weren't at all difficult for me to understand and relate to. They're so everyday, in fact, you might begin to wonder why they even merit a story.
I'd read a few reviews of Every Last One before I read the book, and I knew something happened partway through that turned the story on its head, but I didn't know the details - and I won't spoil you with them, either. I tried to anticipate and guess what would happen, though; I was wrong - and utterly stunned. But what didn't change from that point on was Quindlen's focus on the details, as she continued to build and develop her characters and make their situation feel convincing and real.
It feels like a lot of the books I read specifically for review are first and second novels, but when I choose books for myself I have many favorites I like to come back to, and I appreciate being brought through a story by a seasoned pro. For my money, this is Quindlen's best novel in some time, and may turn out to be among the best fiction I read this year - the story was riveting, I cared about the characters, and the writing was accomplished and somehow unobtrusive at the same time. I read almost two-thirds of this on an airplane; while it's probably the opposite of "escapist" fiction, it's excellent vacation reading.