Published March 2018 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley
Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. The owners watch one another’s children grow up. They use the same handyman. They trade gossip and gripes, and they maneuver for the ultimate status symbol: a spot in the block’s small parking lot.
Then one morning, Nora returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the enviable dead-end block turns into a potent symbol of a divided city. The fault lines begin to open: on the block, at Nora’s job, especially in her marriage. With an acute eye that captures the snap crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.
At one point in Alternate Side one of the Nolan twins scolds Nora over what she calls "first-world problems." That's sort of what this book hinges on, particularly the first-world problems of upper-middle class Manhattanites.
New York City itself plays big role in the book and some reviewers have pointed out that there will be readers who can't relate to the first-world problems this neighborhood faces or life in Manhattan. That may be true but it shouldn't necessarily stop someone from reading the book. After all, I've read, and enjoyed, many books set in the South, or California, or France and I've never lived there. It's one of the things that makes reading great: the chance to really learn about the way a different group of people live. Even if they are upper-middle class Manhattanites who think that paying $350 a month for an off-the-street parking spot is a bargain.
Quindlen uses parking throughout the book, in fact, to help tell a story about the have's and the have-not's, marriage, parenthood, and values. Alternate side refers to more than just a particular parking regulation in parts of Manhattan that has residents of the Nolan's dead end block scrambling on a daily basis; it refers to the different ways people can see an issue, the different sides of the socio-economic strata, the different ways parents and children view the world.
I'm a huge Quindlen fan and I sort of feel the same way about her as I do about Jane Austen - even one of her books that's not my favorite is still better than most. Alternate Side is one of those books. There are a lot of interesting ideas here; there was a lot that I felt really spoke to me or really put truth into words. But...it is not my favorite Quindlen book. Why, I keep wondering? Well, those people who said readers wouldn't be able to relate to these characters are right to an extent; I did have trouble connecting to these characters. Since this is a book that's so character driven, it's tough to connect with the story because of that. But, a week after reading the book, I'm still thinking about it and about what Quindlen has to say about communication between husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbors, coworkers, employers and employees.
I'm still thinking about what Quindlen has to say about society.
"The women were talking about people, the men talking about things. It was why so many of the men prospered on Wall Street and in the big law firms, where things could be turned into money and people were interchangeable and even insignificant, and there were hardly any women running the show."I'm still thinking about what Quindlen had to say about marriage and relationships.
"Charlie, one-l no-d Nolan, literal, guileless, all the things that would eventually make her sometimes want to scream, on that night, in this city, made her feel like that moment when you walk out of the waves, teeth chattering, gooseflesh from shoulder to ankle, and someone wraps you in a towel. That towel is just a towel, ordinary, humdrum, but at that one moment it feels like fur, better than fur, like safety, care, the right thing."
"...they all assumed that if their marriages ended, it would be with a big band: the other woman, the hidden debts. Nora had had more reasons than most to imagine that, veteran of a grand passion built on a big lie. But now she thought that was an aberration. The truth was that their marriages were like balloons: some went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no life to it anymore."So, while this might not have been my favorite Quindlen book, I'm happy I read it. Any book that keep you thinking long after you read it is a good thing, isn't it?