Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Mary Beth Latham is a prototypical suburban housewife. She has a fairly good marriage to an ophthalmologist, who has a reasonably successful practice. She has three teenaged children, two of whom seem very well adjusted. She has a moderately successful landscaping business that doesn’t prevent her from spending a lot of quality time with her family. She even has a nice dog.
She is a very conscientious and wise mother, who gives her children a judicious amount of guidance, but is not overbearing. She knows enough to let the well-adjusted ones (a boy and a girl) make their own choices, but devotes extra attention to the less happy boy. For the first 150 pages, we get to know the family and watch it go through a very mundane life in suburbia cum teenage growing pains. That doesn’t sound like much action, and it isn’t. Nevertheless, Anna Quindlen is such a good writer that the story moves along swiftly, with only the barest hint of the trouble ahead.
The trouble all occurs in two pages—a shocking murder that leaves Mary Beth with a much-reduced family to tend. In the subsequent 145 pages, we follow Mary Beth as she tries to cope with her new circumstances. Quindlen is especially apt at conveying the grief particular to the unexpected removal of loved ones from our lives. In addition, she alerts us to the guilt the characters feel. Not only are there the more usual nagging questions of “why didn’t I see? why didn’t I pay more attention?” but there is more: we learn that the survivors feel guilty about some indiscretions that may have contributed tangentially to the tragedy.
Evaluation: I found it easy to empathize with the characters, all of whom are well wrought. Quindlen is an excellent storyteller.
Published by Random House, 2010