Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Emily, Alone - Stewart O' Nan (Audio)

If you want to meet a band of loyal, take-a-bullet-for-their-author fans, go on to Twitter or Facebook, or even stand on the street, and yell "STEWART O' NAN" at the top of your lungs and see what happens.  This man has got his people.  He has written some scarey stuff, some literary family drama, and even wrote a book about the Red Sox with Stephen King.  There has been so much love swelling from social media and the blogs on this guy, I felt like I was missing out on the fun.  I hate missing out!  I hopped on over to my library website, and found they had "Emily, Alone" on audio, so I snapped it up.

"Emily, Alone" is actually a sequel to "Wish You Were Here", a novel about Emily Maxwell trying to hold her family together after the death of her husband.  It is unfortunate that I didn't read that one first, but I was assured by Beth Fish Reads and Lakeside Musing that the novel would still stand on its own.

Synopsis:  It has been years since Emily's husband died, and still the 80 year-old widow is struggling to navigate through her life alone.  She has her aging dog Rufus and her sister-in-law to keep her company, but she wrestles with loneliness, the friends that keep dying, her progressing frailty, her middle-aged children that have their own life and demons to battle, and settling her affairs before she dies.

Sometimes she is shocked by her independence...like going out and buying a new car with good gas mileage!  Or putting her dog on a diet and whipping him back into shape.  Or maintaining her garden.  At the same time, she is frustrated with her own weakness of pining away for her kids and grandkids calls and thank you letters and visits.  Or needing to ask for help from the neighbor when the sidewalks get snowy. 

At it's heart, "Emily, Alone" is a character study that focuses on the dignity and indignity of aging, in a tone that is deeply emotional but realistic and unflinching. 

My thoughts:  I'm not a huge fan of character studies, I'm finding.  I need some kind of plot, some climax in which to work towards in a story.  This book was perhaps a wee bit too gentle for me to call a favorite, but I did sincerely enjoy it.

I adored Emily.  She reminded me of my grandmother.  Feisty, no-nonsense, with an attitude of "I'll be damned if I let my age prevent me from doing something".  And even though I'm 35 years away from being in her position, I was right there with her in spirit.  I became profoundly melancholy observing life pass her by, her kids and grandkids moving through their lives with little regard for her.  O' Nan, who is only a handful of years older than I, somehow "got" it, which I consider amazing. 

While I would not consider this an uplifting story, it does have moments of hope.  Emily is doing her thing, trying to keep her family together, and living her life to its fullest.  Or at least as full as she is physically able.  O' Nan has also set up the ending to lead into another installment. 

A word about the audio production:  Our narrator was Andrea Gallo, who was new to me, but has narrated many other books, including ones by Debbie Macomber and Temple Grandin.  She portrayed Emily, in her spunk and frustrations, perfectly. 

3.5 out of 5 stars      
  

18 comments:

Nymeth said...

What you said about the focus on ageing piqued my curiosity. There isn't enough of that in fiction, I don't think.

Beth F said...

I adore character studies so this was a total win for me. O'Nan broke through the stereotypes of aging but didn't idealize it either. True the book doesn't include fast-action plotting but I loved it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This one would depress the heck out of me! I already feel like Emily...

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

The only O'Nan novel I've read was Songs for the Missing, which I enjoyed. I'm tempted to try this one, but I think I'll start with the novel that comes before it.

reviewsbylola said...

I have heard great things about O'Nan, so I definitely plan to read something of his. Not sure where I'll start though.

Zibilee said...

I am curious about O'Nan, but am not sure that this is the book to start with. I would certainly want to read the first in this series and check it out though. It sounds as though I might like his writing, as I do really enjoy character studies. Great and very candid review today, Sandy. I appreciated it!

Ti said...

He is new to me, but I picked up a copy of his new book from Net Galley.

What book did he write with King? I don't recall it.

farmlanebooks said...

I've had a problem with books about aging in the past - think I'm too young for that sort of thing. The gentleness worries me too - think I'll pass on this one.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Well, clearly I'm behind the gravy train on this one since I am so unaware of Stewart O'Nan. While this sounds super depressing, every now and again, I'll read one that drags me down if it's well-written. Weird to say that, but it's true. Will put on the list to track down someday.

caite said...

I have never read anything by O'Nan..it is amazing how often I say that about an author...but the lack of plot might be a killer for me.

bermudaonion said...

I'm with you on the character studies - they're just not for me.

Amy said...

Emily sounds like a fascinating character and I love that she's elderly since I'm finding often these are the most interesting characters. I don't like or dislike character studies and find it just depends on the author. I definitely want to read some books by Stewart O'Nan sooner rather than later and your review has me thinking this might be the one to start with!

This book sounds captivating and a realistic depiction of what it's like to be elderly in spciety today.
Great review, Sandy, I really enjoyed it!

Kathleen said...

I find that I really need to be in the right mood for a "quieter" read like this one. This time of year I am just too crazed with work and holiday stuff to think to give this one a try.

Julie P. said...

I'm thinking that I need to read the other one first.

Trisha said...

I read the whole review, but all I come back to is that you read this despite not having read the first. That really gets my bookOCD twitching. :)

JoAnn said...

I just love character studies, and O'Nan's portrait of Emily is one of the best I've read. It just amazed me that a middle-aged man could understand Emily so well... the author must have spent a lot of time talking to his grandmother, great aunts, etc. Not much action, for sure, but I've found that doesn't matter much to me.

My book club is reading O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster for December (at my suggestion). Can't wait to hear how they like it.

heidenkind said...

A character study about aging? I think I'll just visit my grandparents, instead. :P

Melissa said...

I'm not much for the character study thing either. While I love a well drawn character, I still need some plot too. I have Songs for the Missing and will give it a try at some point.