Read Both: Every Last One and Always Happy Hour

January 26, 2017 Mini Book Reviews 17

Every Last One, Anna QuindlenEvery Last One by Anna Quindlen
Fiction (Released August 13, 2010)
299 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Random House)

Plot Summary: The story of the Latham family – a normal, but not perfect family with teenage children – and the ripple effects of small decisions.

My Thoughts: Catherine at Gilmore Guide recently got me started on Anna Quindlen by recommending Miller’s Valley and then Every Last One…and I cannot thank her enough. Quindlen just gets it…she gets motherhood, marriage, adult female friendship, life with teenagers, and grief (and I’m sure I’ll discover more as I read more of her work)…and that shines through in the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing that permeates Every Last One.

A loose end—that’s what we women call it, when we are overwhelmed by the care of small children, the weight of small tasks, a life in which we fall into bed at the end of the day exhausted from being all things to all people.

This is the rare book that combines a booming plot with depth, emotion, and sparkling writing. A central plot point drives the story, but the action really isn’t what this book is about. Quindlen kicks things off with an honest portrayal of a family that isn’t too perfect and isn’t too dysfunctional…they are decidedly average and relatable (I know, a departure from the dysfunctional families I normally love to read about). Mary Beth, the mother, is someone I could see myself being friends with and their three children are characters I recognized clearly from my youth. But then, something unimaginable happens and the book becomes about how regular people deal with inconceivable events. An overarching theme of the constant politeness that society expects…the sometimes cavernous disparity between what society expects people to say vs. what people truthfully feel or want to say…pervades the second half of the story.

Every Last One was not the light read that I expected…it was much better than that and enabled me to finish my 2016 reading (I read this in late December) with a 5 star book.

Always Happy Hour, Mary MillerAlways Happy Hour by Mary Miller
Fiction – Short Stories (Released January 10, 2017)
256 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Liveright)

Plot Summary: A collection of short stories from the perspective of women in bad situations making bad decisions.

My Thoughts: Always Happy Hour is going to be a tough sell because 1) short stories generally are and 2) my descriptions of the book aren’t the kind that generally make hoards of readers run to the bookstore…but, this collection is very, very good if you like dark stories (read between the lines: it isn’t for everyone). Elements of this collection reminded me of two beloved TV shows: Seinfeld because the stories aren’t really about anything, yet they’re about everything (sort of snapshots of life rather than plot-heavy)…and The Office because of the deadpan tone.

This is not my life, or it is not the life I’m supposed to be living, and so I can pretend that it is. I don’t consider the actuality of my situation, which is that every day I live this life it becomes more and more mine, the real one, and the one I’m supposed to be living falls further away; eventually it will be gone forever.

Most of the women in these stories have a defeatist quality about them; life has sort of left them behind. There is a sense of inertia hanging over everything and they can’t seem to take control of their lives. I wanted to shake them many times…but, we’ve all had defeatist moments in our own lives and those moments are the reader’s lifeline to relating to certain aspects of these characters’ lives, if not the overall wholes. There is a sameness to many of the stories and so they ran together in my head a bit, but reading a story a day or so helped, and my two favorites (Little Bear and First Class) came towards the end of the collection. Pick this collection up if you’re a fan of dark, dry humor and gorgeous writing.

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17 Responses to “Read Both: Every Last One and Always Happy Hour”

  1. Kay

    See our reading does overlap sometimes – Ha! I read EVERY LAST ONE several years ago and loved it. I need to reread it at some point perhaps. Totally agree with your recommendation here and I’ve suggested it to many people.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – YAY! I can’t believe I’m just becoming familiar with Anna Quindlen’s writing…I can’t wait to read her entire backlist.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’ve only read 2 of hers so far, but this was my favorite. And I’m glad I sold at least one person on Always Happy Hour!

  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    You’re right about short stories being a hard sell. I know my instinct is to pass on them, though Always Happy Hour and also Difficult Women have made me want to reconsider. Maybe I’ll just have to start with the stories you liked best here.

    I haven’t read any Anna Quindlen, but with both you and Catherine loving her, I feel like I need to find time to squeeze her in. Nice to end the year with 5 stars!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I have the same instinct! And Difficult Women keeps coming up in the algorithms along with Always Happy Hour…AND I heard about it from Roxane Gay’s best things she read in 2016 list. So, I think I’ll have to fit in Difficult Women sometime this year too 🙂

      And I think you’ll love Quindlen!

  3. Tara

    I’m so glad that you stuck with this short story collection; selfishly, so that I would know whether it’s worth reading – ha! I may get a copy of this to take on my trip; would be a good option when I only have a few minutes to sneak something in between longer reading periods. I can definitely handle dark stories!

  4. Naomi

    Yes, I have to read more Anna Quindlen especially if she’s writing about teenagers!
    And short stories entirely about women appeal to me, too.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I haven’t been the mother of teenagers (yet!), but her portrayal struck me as right on target based on my time as a teen and my relationship with my mom and siblings.

  5. Pat @ PostingForNow

    Great reviews Sarah.

    I loved Miller’s Valley and love your description of Every Last One. It’s nice to end the year with a five star book.

    Since Always Happy Hour brings Seinfeld and the Office to mind, I am very curious about this collection of stories. I like short stories.

    Have a great week-end!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Definitely try Every Last One then…but it gets intense. Be prepared.

      And if you don’t mind going dark, definitely try Always Happy Hour!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’m only 2 deep on her, but am looking forward to delving into her backlist. How Reading Changed My Life sounds like one I should try sooner rather than later!

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