Emily, Alone – Stewart O’Nan (2011)

A quiet and unassuming novel about Emily Maxwell, an aging widow living in Pittsburgh who is great friends with Arlene, another older lady who is her sister-in-law.  Living separately, they tend to meet up frequently for meals and visits, although Emily does not find Arlene that easy to be with at times as she can be a bit too bossy. However, to be with Arlene is better than to be by yourself. That is, until Arlene passes out one day and puts Emily into the unfamiliar position of being the leader, the assertive one of the two. This flipping of the roles makes Emily learn new things about herself and her life, and although it’s not Page One material, the way that O’Nan writes makes it of great importance to the reader.

O’Nan has the reputation of writing about the minutiae of life: the day to day routines of normal people who live very ordinary lives. However, he does so in such a way that you, the reader, develop a close connection to the characters. By the end of the book, I really felt as though Emily was a real person who I knew somewhere – I ended up thinking about her as I would a real-life grandmother and worrying about her, hoping she was ok. Ridiculous, I know, but this is how well O’Nan writes. You *know* the characters and how they think and act.

I didn’t know this before, but apparently this is a sequel to an earlier O’Nan book called “Wish You Were Here” which features Emily in her earlier life. I am definitely going to retrieve this title from the library at some point even if only that I am not ready to let go of Emily just yet.

This was an excellent read and I chose to pick it up over the other two books I have going right now. A great character study of an interesting woman at the tail-end of her life, and I was sad to reach the end… Po-Mo ending too which was cool.

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