Thursday, February 22, 2024

After Annie by Anna Quindlen

After Annie
by Anna Quindlen
304 pages
Published Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
When Annie Brown dies suddenly, her husband, her children, and her closest friend are left to find a way forward without the woman who has been the lynchpin of all their lives. Bill is overwhelmed without his beloved wife, and Annemarie wrestles with the bad habits her best friend had helped her overcome. And Ali, the eldest of Annie’s children, has to grow up overnight, to care for her younger brothers and even her father and to puzzle out for herself many of the mysteries of adult life. 

Over the course of the next year what saves them all is Annie, ever-present in their minds, loving but not sentimental, caring but nobody’s fool, a voice in their heads that is funny and sharp and remarkably clear. The power she has given to those who loved her is the power to go on without her. The lesson they learn is that no one beloved is ever truly gone. 

Written in Quindlen’s emotionally resonant voice and with her deep and generous understanding of people, After Annie is about hope, and about the unexpected power of adversity to change us in profound and indelible ways.

My Thoughts: 
Quindlen is one of my favorite authors; even when I don't love one of her books, I still find plenty to like and think about it. So when I find that she's written a new book, I jump at the chance to read it. Without even looking to see what it's about. And, clearly, without paying much attention to the title. So it came as a surprise to me when Annie drops to the kitchen floor, dead of an aneurysm. I suppose I thought that this would be a family story, which it most certainly is. But it is primarily a book about grief and loss and how each person handles both in their own way and in their own time. 

Quindlen is a master of making big themes feel intimate, personal, and real. 
"Annie Brown died right before dinner. The mashed potatoes were still in the pot on the stove, the dented pot with the loose handle, but the meatloaf and the peas were already on the table. Two of the children were in their usual seats. Jamie tried to pick a piece of bacon off the top of the meatloaf, and Ali elbowed him."

 It turns out that Annie was everyone's anchor, as women so often are. Without his anchor, Bill looks to other people, who are all too willing to step up, to help him survive. Ali turns to her only real friend, only to find that her friend doesn't have the capacity to help. Ant rebels. Annemarie finds she doesn't know how to fight her addiction without Annie holding her accountable. Fortunately, there are people who offer real solace and reasons to fight hard to make a new life, while still honoring the person they lost. 

For a short novel, Quindlen has packed a lot into this one. Not only are we dealing with death, grief, loss, parenting, marriage, and friendship, Quindlen is also addressing mental health, sexual assault, addiction, aging, and secrets. In lesser hands, it would be too much. It might be more here than Quindlen needed to include here; but, because she handles it all so well, it mostly worked for me. And I was so wrapped up in the characters, so invested in their finding their way to peace, that I was willing to overlook anything that might have been hard to forgive in a lesser work. I know there will be people who are not happy with the ending; but I was fine with it because I so badly wanted to this family to pull together and find a way forward. 


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