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After Annie

A Novel

by Anna Quindlen

After Annie by Anna Quindlen X
After Annie by Anna Quindlen
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outstandinbreathtaking and heartbreaking depiction of a family
After Annie by Anna Quindlen is an outstanding breathtaking and heartbreaking depiction of a family dealing with the untimely death of a wife and mother over the span of a year. It is a very highly recommended, exceptional literary family drama and not to be missed. One of the best. I loved this book.

When Annie Brown, 37, dies suddenly, she leaves behind her husband Bill, who is a plumber, and four children Ali (Alexandra)13, Ant (Anthony) 11, Benjy (Benjamin) 8, and James 6. She also leaves behind her best friend since childhood, Annemarie. No one knows how they can move forward without Annie. Bill is overwhelmed and forfeits much of his parental responsibility to Ali, who tries to step up and care for everyone as best she can. Ali carries the weight and tries to keep her family going. Ant is angry and acting out, Benjy begins wetting the bed, and James thinks his mom will still be coming home. Annemarie, a recovering addict due to Annie's help, is struggling with staying clean and sober.

Quindlen is an extraordinary writer who can deftly handle the subject matter accurately and with compassion. Anyone who has had an untimely death in their family will understand the emotional struggles this family is going through while trying to keep living their day to day lives. It is a deeply moving, emotionally charged story. Even when it seems not a lot of action is going on in the plot, those who have experienced this will know moving on after a death is like climbing a mountain every day. It is exhausting and overwhelming.

The narrative is broken up into seasons, winter, spring, summer, and autumn, and explores the inner life and practicalities of how each character is handling the loss of a person who held them all together. The characters are portrayed as fully-realized, complex, and realistic individuals who are trying to continue living. Annie is present in their thoughts and her backstory is told through them. The story is primarily told through Bill, Annmarie, and Ali. They are all faced with imagining life without Annie when she was a central part of their lives.

Be prepared to cry as the characters learn to live life without someone they loved. Yes, it is very sad, but there is hope in their memories as well as their struggles. This is a very emotionally satisfying story. It is okay and good to grieve those you love. Thanks to Random House for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

Relatable & Compassionate Exploration of Grief/Mourning
Anna Quindlen is known for crafting relatable stories about ordinary people who find themselves facing unexpected challenges that leave them profoundly and irrevocably changed. The strength of her writing style is its understated simplicity and humanity.

“Bill, get me some Advil, my head is killing me,” thirty-seven-year-old Annie Brown says to her husband as she is serving dinner — meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and peas — to him and their four children on an otherwise unremarkable evening. “Bill,” she said again, “and then she went down, hard,” on the kitchen floor. Bill ran to her, scooped her into his arms, and carried her to the living room floor as he yelled to thirteen-year-old Ali to call 911. He took the telephone from her and began explaining what happened to the dispatcher as Ant, Benjy, and Jamie also watched helplessly from their seats at the kitchen table. Bill accompanied the ambulance to the hospital, leaving Ali, bewildered and frightened, to look after the younger children. Eventually, the two little boys ate some dinner, and Ali cleaned up the kitchen and got them into bed. She finally dozed off on the living room couch but was awakened at 3:11 a.m. by the sound of someone opening the back door.

Bill saw Ali on the couch and collapsed on the floor, crying. Neither of them was able to move. Finally, Bill said, “Oh, my God. What the hell am I going to do?” And any hope Ali still held out, dissipated. Bill did not need to say the words. She knew her mother was dead.

In After Annie, Quindlen examines the life of Annie’s family during the first year after her sudden death from a brain aneurysm as they grapple with loss, grief, and a future that looks nothing like it did immediately before that one pivotal moment. From her characters’ perspectives, Quindlen reveals their turbulent emotions, examines their search for peace and acceptance, and explores their efforts to adapt to a new sense of normalcy and routine.

For Bill, Annie’s death is overwhelming and, for a time, paralyzing. And not just because he loved her completely, even though they married “too fast and too young.” He depended upon her. He needed her. She was the center of his world, as well as his children’s. “Annie had been a natural mother” who was happy and content with her “lovely reliable life that went on day to day with the occasional occasion, a party, a new baby, dinner out, vacations.” She worked hard at the local nursing home where she was beloved by residents and staff alike. She adored her children and husband, as well as her best friend, Annemarie, with whom she had an unbreakable bond despite conflicts, resentments, and times that called for unyieldingly tough love. The life she and Bill shared was "enough," a fact that Annemarie could not always relate to or understand.

Even though Bill tries to “pull himself together” – he felt as though he was “leaving pieces of himself wherever he went, in every room, like he was dismembered by loss” – he has no idea how to do so. He must keep working to provide for his family – he is a plumber and Annie’s income was necessary to keep their household running – and take care of his children. He doesn’t know any of the details he relied upon Annie to remember and manage: the names of the kids’ teachers, doctors, and friends, their clothing and shoe sizes, when appointments are or need to be scheduled. He increasingly foists responsibility upon Ali and feels guilty about it, but incapable of handling things himself. And as his overbearing, self-centered mother, Dora, who owns the house in which they reside and with whom Annie had a fractious relationship, pressures him to “move on,” only making things worse, he reconsiders his life. “Was his life a choice or an accident?” Dora never liked Annie because she thought Bill could have fared better by marrying his high school girlfriend, Liz, a perky real estate agent who is eager to take Annie’s place . . . with Dora’s blessing. But a new relationship, along with all of the other changes Liz attempts to impose on the Brown family, is not what Bill – or his grieving children – need. He feels as though is life is “bring run by women” –wasn’t it always? – and he recognizes that he must find his own voice and be assertive, make appropriate choices for himself and his family, and stand on his own for the first time in his life.

Ali finds returning to school after her mother’s death difficult and Annemarie observes that Annie would be heartbroken that Ali seems to have become “a grownup in an instant.” Ali does not want to cry because that will make it “all true,” and she is displeased when forced to participate in sessions with the school counselor. Her best friend, Jenny, a secretive girl from a wealthy, overprotective family, reminds Ali not to share her feelings with the counselor. No good could come from it. Rather, the counselor would “become your extracurricular activity, and you would become that kid.” “I didn’t lose my mother,” Ali explains to Ms. Cruz, who is new to the school. “I hate it that people say that. I didn’t lose her, and she’s not gone, and she didn’t pass away. She’s dead.” Ali isn’t eating and is bothered by the fact that her father and brothers have stopped talking about her mother. She resents her father’s attempts to move on with his life, particularly the time he spends with Liz instead of at home, noting that he can find a new wife, but she and her brothers can never have another mother. Over the course of the next few months, Ali does open up to Ms. Cruz as she grows taller, developing into a young woman. Her understanding of the adults in her life and their shortcomings expands as she learns to trust her own instincts, forgive, and appreciate that although her mother may not be physically present any longer, their connection to each other can never be severed.

At the age of eleven, Annie’s death exacerbates Ant’s already-simmering anger. Unsure how to respond to his outbursts or comfort his oldest son, Bill proceeds with Annie’s plan to send him to camp where his behavioral problems amplify. With each passing day, Ant becomes crueler, hurling vile insults at others. Benjy requires a tutor because he is having difficulty learning to read and six-year-old Jamie just wants to know when his mother is coming home. He insists that she is “being patched up at the hospital.”

For Annemarie, the magnitude of the loss of the woman who has been her best friend since first grade defies description. Annie was Annemarie’s life compass. She knew the real Annemarie and, unlike others, was never fooled by her. Annemarie recalls how Annie literally saved her life, but accepted no excuses and threatened to turn her back on Annemarie forever if she failed to match Annie’s belief in her and efforts on her behalf. Fear of how desolate her life would be without her best friend and most stalwart supporter kept Annemarie clean and sober. But losing Annie has destroyed Annemarie’s equilibrium, and her already prickly relationship with Bill is “curdling” without Annie there to mediate. She is reeling, spiraling out of control, and veering toward abusing prescription drugs again. Will anything stop her from destroying her marriage, business, and life?

The story opens in winter and Quindlen’s narrative moves forward through the seasons until it is winter again and the first anniversary of Annie’s death. Quindlen’s riveting story compassionately details how the Brown family becomes utterly lost when Annie dies, unequipped to navigate the shocking and unspeakably profound departure of their wife, mother, and irreplaceable friend. Quindlen’s depiction of how they find their way through the haze of grief and sorrow that descends upon them is compelling and credible. Every one of Quindlen’s fully developed characters is flawed and vulnerable, their imperfections magnified in the wake of Annie’s absence. They are also sympathetic and, largely, likeable. Even Dora, pushy and domineering, is empathetic because she loves her son and wants the best for him and her grandchildren, and her worldview is the culmination of her own life experiences. So there are no villains in this story. Rather, the characters are a group bound together by their love for and relationships with Annie who must reevaluate and redesign their connections to and interactions with each other, and their own lives, without her. Once again, Quindlen, who the New York Times aptly alls an “anthropologist of domesticity,” probes the nuances of everyday life – shock, grief, mourning, and finding happiness again – with quiet, eloquent insight and tenderness. Small details, like the way characters continue calling Annie’s phone just to hear her voice and how scents evoke memories and longing, resonate. After Annie is a richly emotional story populated with characters about whom readers will care deeply as they contemplate their own reaction to and capacity to navigate loss and rebuilding.

Thank you to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book.
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