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"After Annie" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

We all have favorite authors we follow, waiting for another of their treasures to feed us as we sit transfixed, amazed at their craft. Anna Quindlen tops my list, her writing simple, yet eloquent, as she tackles everyday life with aplomb, detailing the goings-on of ordinary people in love, and not, family members struggling as they sort through issues in their relationships. We identify with her characters because we see ourselves in them. 

For many years Quindlen worked for the “New York Times.” She followed her career in journalism with a profusion of lovely novels and heartfelt non-fiction. Her most recent novel was released in 2018, “Alternate Side,” too long a wait, making me anxious to embrace her newbie, “After Annie,” listening to the recorded version (very good) but then reading the book so I could savor every word.

  “Annie Brown died right before dinner.” So begins the saga of the Browns: Annie and Bill and their “adored” children: daughter, Ali, age 13, and three sons, 11, 8 and 6. Over the course of a year, from winter to winter, we experience the loss of a wife and mother wholly devoted to her family. Annie only ever wanted to have what she had, a pack of kids and a steadfast love. She had that in Bill, a plumber with a dear heart and intentions. Annie’s death completely crushed him.

Also devastated is Annie’s best friend brash, outspoken, but insecure Annmarie, Annie’s lifelong bestie, the two sitting next to each other in first grade, “…who irritated the hell out of (Annmarie) in the beginning, who later had turned out to be the only thing standing between her and disaster.” That disaster is Annmarie’s addiction to pain killers, a pathway to hell that Annie helped her through, having experience in the care field because she worked at a home for the elderly. With Annie gone, Annmarie’s desire to escape emotional pain returns tenfold.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, Annie’s family and friends try to adjust, the shock of an abrupt death throwing them into an alternate reality. The little boys miss their mommy, and Bill can’t seem to talk about Annie—his feelings so overwhelming. Ali, just entering adolescence, struggles mightily.  Suddenly she’s thrown into her mother’s role, caring for the boys and fixing meals for the family, all the while missing Annie at a time when she needs her the most as she struggles to understand her best friend, who seems troubled yet won’t share her problems with Ali.

In her simple, yet powerful voice, Quindlen lovingly guides each of her characters through the crevices of their loss, their process of adjusting a daily, painful grind, their usual ways of doing things null and void, old behaviors snapping at their heels. Yet, “After Annie” is not maudlin or depressing, it’s hopeful, and insightful, a wise novel that has a lot to say about coping with loss and offering comfort to others who are grieving. I finished it with a sigh and some tears, mentally marking it as a friend I’ll keep in sight on the bookshelf.



 

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