A sequel to the best-selling, much-beloved Wish You Were Here, Stewart O'Nan's intimate new novel follows Emily Maxwell, a widow whose grown children have long moved away. She dreams of vists by her grandchildren while mourning the turnover of her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood, but when her sole companion and sister-in-law Arlene faints at their favorite breakfast buffet, Emily's days change. As she grapples with her new independence, she discovers a hidden strength and realizes that life always offers new possibilities. Like most older women, Emily is a familiar yet invisible figure, one rarely portrayed so honestly. Her mingled feelings-of pride and regret, joy and sorrow- are gracefully rendered in wholly unexpected ways.
It’s been a long while since we first met the Maxwell family in Stewart O’Nan’s Wish You Were Here, which follows Emily, the widowed family matriarch, on one final summer trip to Lake Chautauqua with her two troubled children and four confused grandchildren. O’Nan’s gift for character study is truly in evidence as Emily, Alone picks up the thread with the title character now approaching 80, yet feeling instantly familiar.
Emily’s life may still have a few unexpected turns left, but it’s the deep, daily psychology that makes for such a moving portrait. Andrea Gallo narrates the intensely nuanced calculations of old age with grace and clarity, putting in a touch of gravel when Emily’s emotional strength occasionally fails, such as when she watches her equally ancient sister-in-law pass out and cut her forehead on the other side of the salad bar. Arlene, the sister-in-law, and Rufus, her old cocker spaniel, provide excellent sidekick material. Despite the cloudy skies of memory, there are plenty of laughs, as everybody is trying not to break a hip.
Gallo’s voice gives such an elegant texture to Emily’s thoughts, and never overreaches to garner sympathy. Her forthright manner is completely befitting of this woman who is crumbling just like her beloved Pittsburgh is crumbling. Whether Emily is contemplating the dusty old car she hasn’t driven in more than a decade, the unabashed real estate scramble going on at the brownstone for sale next door, or the grandchildren who are growing up and away from her, the tension is palpable. On the level of plot, one couldn’t say this novel is very action-packed. Yet between O’Nan’s lines and Gallo’s voice, there lurks something devastatingly suspenseful as Emily inches along the remainder of her mortality. Whether enjoyed as a sequel or on its own, this is a novel that haunts. Megan Volpert
"...O'Nan's depiction... achieves a rare resonance." (Publishers Weekly)
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Examination of a mundane existence
- John S.
Wonderful book - insight into aging