REVIEW: EMILY, ALONE, BY STEWART O’NAN

 

A sequel to the bestselling, much-beloved Wish You Were Here, Stewart O’Nan’s intimate new novel follows Emily Maxwell, a widow whose grown children have long moved away. She dreams of visits by her grandchildren while mourning the turnover of her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood, but when her sole companion and sister-in-law Arlene faints at their favorite breakfast buffet, Emily’s days change. As she grapples with her new independence, she discovers a hidden strength and realizes that life always offers new possibilities. Like most older women, Emily is a familiar yet invisible figure, one rarely portrayed so honestly. Her mingled feelings—of pride and regret, joy and sorrow— are gracefully rendered in wholly unexpected ways. Once again making the ordinary and overlooked not merely visible but vital to understanding our own lives, Emily, Alone confirms O’Nan as an American master.

 

My Thoughts: As the years pass, people begin to settle into their routines, expecting little else except loss and the passage of time. But the characters in Emily, Alone, especially Emily herself, show us that each day can bring new life and new experiences.

Emily and her sister-in-law Arlene have their established routines: lunch on Tuesday at the diner, with their coupon. Occasional walks and visits to art museums. Looking ahead to the holidays. On one such day at the diner, however, Arlene has an episode that leads to hospitalization, and Emily’s routines are shaken to the core. She has to start driving again so she can visit Arlene and bring things to her. She varies her days, and even in the exhaustion of it all, there is something rejuvenating.

The holidays bring reminders of the family conflicts and issues, but with her new lease on life, Emily finds ways to enjoy the moments. And even with each loss, she realizes that each new day is a gift.

I liked how she enjoyed each day, even after some extra challenges, including aches, pains, and illnesses. Her dog Rufus was her steady companion and added an extra something to the story.

The inevitability of death follows each day, but so does the bliss of new possibilities with the dawn. The story was slow, but in that savoring kind of pace that I love now and then. As we followed the seasons, the holidays, and the measured routines of each day, the passage of time brought something new and inspirational, even as the end also loomed. By the conclusion, I felt as though Emily was a friend I would never forget.

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