After Annie by Anna Quindlen: ‘There’s no right or wrong way to grieve’

Cover image for After Annie by Anna QuindlenI’ve been reading Anna Quindlen’s quietly perceptive novels for years, wondering if she might get the Elizabeth Strout style recognition she deserves here in the UK. It didn’t happen with either Still Life with Breadcrumbs or Alternate Side but perhaps it will with After Annie which spans the year after Annie Brown’s death, following her family and best friend for whom she was their linchpin.

In books and movies Ali would have hugged him and he would have hugged her and they would both have felt a little better.

Annie and Bill led busy lives: four children, a plumbing business and working in a care home put paid to much in the way of leisure. Annie had been happily pregnant when she married Bill much to her best friend’s chagrin, the plans they’d made to escape smalltown Greengrass together out of the window now that Annie had exchanged dreams of a life of adventure for domesticity and marriage to a dull man, or at least that’s what Annemarie thought but Annie and Bill had been happy, navigating the odd bump with relative ease. When Annie collapses after calling out for some Advil while their children sit down to supper, Bill is poleaxed. Thirteen-year-old Ali quietly steps in, doing her best to fill the chasm left by her mother while Annemarie tries hard to keep a grip on her sobriety. Over the next year, both Annie’s family and her best friend find their way through the first stages of a grief which had seemed impossible to bear.

Becoming a man seemed to mean becoming a person who would be poisoned by loss and heartbreak and still pretend neither existed.

Quindlen shifts perspectives between Ali, Bill and Annmarie, their thoughts flooded with memories of the strong, capable, warm and loving Annie, far from saintly but popular and loved by almost all who knew her. She and Bill were an ordinary couple. Annie longing for a home of their own, away from the house Bill’s mother never lets them forget she allows them to live in, basking in her own generosity while charging them rent. Quindlen’s characters are perceptively portrayed:  Ali, the eldest, takes on far too much of her mother’s role after she dies, Bill too lost in grief and unable to express it to see what’s going on, while Annmarie loses her way. With characteristic empathy, her understated, compassionate novel explores the everyday occurrence of death and grief which we all must negotiate, offering the hope of healing.

Scribner: London ‎ 9780241684658 304 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

13 thoughts on “After Annie by Anna Quindlen: ‘There’s no right or wrong way to grieve’”

    1. It’s a tricky theme to handle, isn’t it. So easy to be mawkish or duck the issue but Quindlen writes about it with such compassion, holding out the prospect of healing.

  1. This does sound an immersive read, and somehow Quindlen hadn’t crossed my radar before. I must say that a title like ‘Still life with breadcrumbs’ is another one that sounds thoroughly intriguing.

  2. Yeah maybe I should give it a go … grief novels sometimes can be helpful or not if you’ve lost someone recently … which I did in April. I haven’t read Quindlen since Miller’s Valley in 2017. She is a good writer.

  3. jenniferbeworr

    I used to live for Anna Quindlen’s column in family life in The NY Times when I was in my 20’s and waitressing in NYC. I’m sure I’d love this novel!

  4. I love Anna Quindlen and am delighted to hear that you do too. Even more delighted to realise she has a new book out – I didn’t know about this one! Straight on the wish list it goes. Lovely to read your reviews again.

  5. This sounds like a good and realistic exploration of grief. I feel like I have read something by this author before years ago, but really can’t remember what it was.

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