Anna Quindlen’s previous novels have all been centered on families—whether average, non-traditional or dysfunctional; she even calls herself “hyperdomestic.” It comes as no surprise, then, that her sixth novel, Every Last One, begins with a lengthy description of the minutiae of the everyday life of Mary Beth Latham—wife, mother of three teenagers and owner of a successful landscaping business.
Her husband Glen, an ophthalmologist, eats the same thing every morning and leaves for work at the same time. Ruby, their “beautiful and distinctive” 17-year-old daughter, is a free spirit who aspires to be a poet. The 14-year-old twins, Alex and Max, are complete opposites of one another, manifested by the line painted down the center of their bedroom, dividing it into halves of light blue and lime green. Every day, Mary Beth tells us, is “Average. Ordinary.”
But looking beneath the placid surface of their lives, we learn of a few worrisome details. Ruby has been through a bout of anorexia—which is now, with a therapist’s help, in the past—and she has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend Kiernan, who is not taking the ending of their relationship well. Max is finding it increasingly difficult being the nerdy, moody twin of the handsome, popular Alex, proficient in three sports. All three children go away to camp that summer, but when Max has to come home early with a broken arm, he becomes depressed enough to see Ruby’s therapist. Kiernan begins showing up at the house again, ostensibly to keep Max company, but his presence feels creepy to Mary Beth, and she asks him to end his visits. The situation becomes increasingly awkward over the fall, with Ruby asking Kiernan to just leave her in peace. On New Year’s things take a violent turn, one which Mary Beth relives over and over, wondering if she could have prevented the horrific outcome.
Quindlen explores Mary Beth’s altered life with such acute empathy that readers can palpably experience her anguish and agonize over each step she takes in her slow recovery as if it were their own. She has penned an unforgettable novel about one woman realizing her worst fears, and then somehow finding the strength to survive.