Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: "Emily, Alone" by Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O'Nan is one of my favorite authors. He has written some absolutely phenomenal books, including Snow Angels, which is one of my favorite books of all time. He has an incredible ability to tell a story that stays with you, and creates vivid, multidimensional characters. His latest book, Emily, Alone is a perfect example of his literary talents, and I read the whole thing in one day.

Emily Maxwell is growing older, and she's not enjoying it entirely. She doesn't enjoy the changes her suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood is undergoing, she is still mourning the death of a close friend (and doesn't like the fact that other friends are getting ill and dying), and she wishes she had a better relationship with her grown children and grandchildren. Her closest companions are her sister-in-law, Arlene, and her aging dog, Rufus. When one morning Arlene faints while they are out to breakfast, Emily finds that becoming more independent and taking control of your future doesn't quite mean you have control—life is going to move forward no matter what. And growing older doesn't mean you can let go of your hopes and fears, past hurts and dreams, as Emily finds herself re-examining her relationships with her family and friends, and what motivated her toward certain actions in her life.

I thought this was an absolutely terrific book. Emily and Arlene are realistic and vivid characters I could see in my mind's eye, and their relationship is an amusing and heartfelt one. I worried this book, given its focus on growing older, would be a depressing read, but that wasn't the case. Yes, it certainly had sad moments, but O'Nan focused on relationships and possibilities much more than regrets. While this book has been labeled a sequel of sorts to Wish You Were Here, a previous book O'Nan wrote, you don't have to read that one before this one. (If you enjoy this book, however, I recommend that one, too.) We don't often think of elderly people having fulfilling lives in their later years, but this book takes us on a terrific journey into Emily's life, and I'm already wanting more.

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