Book Review

A master writer delivers another gripping story of love and loss

By Donna Bruno
Posted 4/30/24

‘After Annie’ By Anna Quindlen

I have been reading Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen since 1981, when she wrote the Op-Ed page for the New York Times. Her first novel, …

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Book Review

A master writer delivers another gripping story of love and loss


‘After Annie’
By Anna Quindlen

I have been reading Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen since 1981, when she wrote the Op-Ed page for the New York Times. Her first novel, “One True Thing,” may be the most poignant and moving book I have ever read. Its central character, a devoted wife and mother stricken with cancer, may have been based on Quindlen’s own mom, whom she cared for in her final months.

This most recent, “After Annie,” is reminiscent of that earlier powerfully charged book, since the main character, 37-year-old Annie, suffers a fatal aneurysm, leaving her husband and four children rudderless. Labeled the “first lady of motherhood,” Quindlen is at her best when delving into the devastating experience of loss — in this case, the trauma suffered by her children, her husband Bill, and her best friend Annemarie, a recovering addict whose life she once saved.

The author’s forte`is creating remarkably believable characters exactly like your own family members, relatives and close friends, who come off the page as so very real, indistinguishable from those around you. With her gift for characterization, Quindlen draws you emotionally into their minds and hearts so that the reader easily relates to their experiences and feels all their overwhelmed emotions.

In addition are poignant scenes, as when Bill reaches into their closet for a shirt: “a sleeve or two from her side would touch his arm, like it was reaching for him, a faint smell of lemon and hand cream.” Another – when 13-year-old daughter Ali, as well as her dad, walks tentatively across the kitchen linoleum, avoiding the spot where her mother fell to the floor, as if it were a crime scene outlined in white chalk.

With an acute understanding of the psychological impact of such a loss, the author deftly creates a very wise and empathetic school counselor, Miss Cruz, to help the family navigate without their mother. She intuitively senses the heavy burden placed upon young teen Ali, who must assume so much responsibility for her younger siblings and running the household; the profound ambivalent emotions of younger son Ant, who has become belligerent and incommunicative; the bewilderment of the youngest, who keeps asking when Mom is coming home; the rising panic of addict Annamarie, who now realizes she is on her own without the support of and guidance of the only one who truly knew her and could not be fooled; the floundering Bill, who cannot fathom how to keep this family intact without his nurturing, efficient, beloved Annie.

As in Quindlen’s first novel, the theme is the central and essential role of a mother to her family; Bill imagines it as the broken hub of a wheel shattered with all the spokes strewn around it – useless, helpless – another example of Quindlen’s skill with imagery.

This is a powerful read in which the author shares her revelations about family life, A mother of three – for whom she relinquished her journalism position – to stay at home, she knows her subject intimately and her insights are profound. In both novels – her first and this her most recent – she emphasizes the mother’s role as the glue that holds the family together.

“Now they were a family with its heart gone,” Quindlen conveys, as she gets into the heads of all the characters – children, husband, best friend – who constantly hear Annie’s voice encouraging them, loving them, guiding them, even reprimanding when necessary, as they struggle without her presence. Although they must learn to go on without her, they realize that “no one so beloved is ever truly gone.”

I am always amazed at Quindlen’s wisdom and deep understanding of people and our shared humanity, as evidenced in these as well as her other novels that I have read: “Black and Blue” about domestic violence; ”Blessings” about an abandoned baby; “Alternate Side,” about a violent incident in a city neighborhood that reveals the true personalities of the residents beyond the carefully crafted personas.

Quindlen knows people; she knows kids and husbands and relatives and friends — those just like us — and she captures their essence by creating characters to whom we can easily relate and with whom we can identify. She is a master of her craft.

Donna Bruno is a prizewinning author and poet recently recognized with four awards by National League of American Pen Women.

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