I have been having a lively conversation in my mind with Anna Quindlen for about 25 years. She’s my wiser, funnier best friend — albeit the one I’ve never actually met. Still, I’m pretty sure if we were neighbors we’d get together to walk our dogs every morning and compare notes on what’s going on in the world, what we’re making for dinner, and what we’re reading and thinking and worrying about. (I’m also pretty sure every other Anna Quindlen fan feels exactly the same way I do. To read Anna Quindlen is to wish she lived next door.)
So when Ann Patchett asked if I’d like to interview Anna about her new novel at an upcoming event in Nashville I leapt at the chance. At last! Our conversation would finally move out of my head and into real life.
Alternate Side begins with a middle-aged man’s acquisition of a parking space in his affluent, tightly knit New York City neighborhood and his wife’s less than enthusiastic response to his good fortune. And from there it goes on to explore just about all the questions I lie awake pondering at 2 a.m. – everything from Is my family OK? to Is our country ever going to be OK again?
With great insight, tenderness, and humor, Quindlen creates a portrait of a long-lived, seemingly happy marriage, and then she reveals the fissures beneath the surface. She draws us into a tranquil community of privileged people and introduces the dedicated, far less privileged men and women who make such lives possible. She renders all of these complicated, stratified relationships founded on years of history, tradition, and trust. And then, pulling no punches, she reveals just how little we actually know of the people closest to us and how precarious even the most carefully constructed life really is.
Frankly, it was a little eerie, reading Alternate Side. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel as if the author is hanging out on your doorstep, reading your mind, eavesdropping on your phone calls, debriefing your kids, and listening in on the argument you just had with your spouse at the breakfast table. Perhaps, given our long relationship with Anna Quindlen, this should come as no surprise to anyone. She knows us so well! She is us. Still, when a novel hits this close to home, when it cracks your heart open and makes you rethink all of your assumptions, you can’t help but sit up and pay attention.
And when a novel comes along that’s as timely and as unsettling as Alternate Side, you also want everyone you know to read it – soon — so you can all get together and have a chat about it. It’s a page-turner. And once you turn that last page you’re going to want to have someone to talk to.
P.S. It just so happens that the arrival of my advance copy of Alternate Side coincided with a brief family vacation in Florida. The truth is, it should be the beach book of 2018 — and the book club novel of the year as well.
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