Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Alternate Side

Title:  Alternate Side
Author:  Anna Quindlen
Publication Information:  Random House. 2018. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0812996062 / 978-0812996067

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'Just look at that,' Charlie Nolan said, his arm extended like that of a maĆ®tre d' indicating a particularly good table."

Favorite Quote:  "When people divorced, she was often surprised, and when they stayed together, sometimes more so. She thought that people sought marriage because it meant they could put aside the mascara, the bravado, the good clothes, the company manners, and be themselves, whatever that was, not try so hard. But what that seemed to mean was that they didn't try at all. In the beginning they all spend so much time trying to know the other person, asking questions, telling stories, wanting to burrow beneath the skin. But then you married and naturally were supposed to know one another down to the ground, and so stopped asking, answering, listening."

Alternate Side is a cynical and sad commentary on marriage:

  • "It was notable because they rarely quarreled anymore. Their marriage had become like the AA prayer: 'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.'"
  • "When one of you wanted one life, and the other wanted something completely different, there was a technical term for that:  irreconcilable."
  • "The truth was that their marriages were like balloons:  some went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no life to it anymore."
  • "It's actually fairly typical. What's not typical is that while many marriages run out of steam, most of them keep on going. Or at least endure, steamless."

Within a marriage, the book is a commentary on settling in life. "Nora remembered drawing in the sand of her future with a stick. What she couldn't recall was when the sand had become cement, the who-I-want-to-be turned for once and for all into who-I-am." So many of us have asked that question at some point in our lives.

The book tells this story through the marriage and life of Charlie and Nora Nolan. They both have seemingly successful careers. They appear to be happily married. They are ensconced in a clannish, small street of stately homes in New York cities. They are well off. They are parents to two twins now in college. They seem to lead a charmed life. However, unlike the relationship depicted in Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen, the cracks in this marriage and this lifestyle are visible.

The book is a slow burn. At the beginning, I am not sure where it is going or if I even want to follow along on the journey. It is set in the world of the well-to-do; in fact, those wealthy enough to own a house on a dead end street in a lovely neighborhood in New York City. The squabbles and concerns seems small. It takes a while to realize that this book is more about the city and the characters than a plot.

Then, an incident turns this book into a discussion of prejudice and of economic and social differences. I am intrigued for the book develops into a statement, perhaps about the diversity of the city and perhaps about systemic inequities. Each character seems poised to presents a different perspective - their alternate sides, if you will - on the issue.

Then, the book turns again for it is not the incident itself but rather individual reactions that draw the differences in this book. The incident brings to the forefront differences in approach and thought that have always existed within this household and within this neighborhood. However, this book is not about one defining moment, but rather a collection of differences that come together into a bigger statement. The book comes to its main point about life and about relationships. I go from not being sure I am enjoying the book to crying by the end because the emotion creeps up on me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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