Tag Archives: Alternate Side

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen: If you like Elizabeth Strout or Ann Tyler…

Cover imageSometimes I cringe when I see the comparisons in publishers’ press releases but in Anna Quindlen’s case Scribner are spot on with Elizabeth Strout and Ann Tyler. She also shares with Strout a far smaller following here in the UK than she deserves, although I can happily put that in the past tense for Strout these days. I’d love to think that Alternate Side will do the same for Quindlen as My Name is Lucy Barton did for Strout. With its perceptive exploration of middle-aged marriage, it inhabits quintessential Quindlen territory.

Charlie is cock-a-hoop having secured a space in the parking lot of the Manhattan cul-de-sac where he and Nora have lived for a couple of decades. They’re a fortunate couple: owners of a coveted brownstone bought when such a thing was affordable; successful in their careers; parents of twins set on the road to a fulfilling adulthood. Yet there’s the odd niggle – Charlie would prefer to be a large fish in a much smaller pool than New York, Nora finds herself going elsewhere in her head when he talks about work and she’s not entirely happy in her own job as the development officer of a rich woman’s vanity project. Theirs is a tight-knit community, tolerant of George, its self-appointed overseer, who’s given to pushing instructions through their letter boxes about what other residents should and should not do. This privileged set of householders looks to the likes of Ricky, the handyman, to keep things ticking over smoothly. One day a shocking act of violence rocks the street, setting off fault lines in relationships that will undermine some irretrievably.

I read Miller’s last novel on holiday a few weeks ago, packing it safe in the knowledge that it would justify its weight. H read it too and, to my delight, is now a convert. Much as I enjoyed Miller’s Valley, Alternate Side is even better. Quindlen tells her story from Nora’s perspective with characteristic wit and keen observation, clicking marriage, privilege and the slide into middle age into focus.

The truth was that some of their marriages were like balloons: a few went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no lift to it anymore

Nora is a sympathetic character, acutely aware of her own privilege yet not entirely understanding how that might be perceived. She knows that without Ricky or Charity, their housekeeper, things would fall apart but she’s brought up short when faced with unease and anger when she steps over the line into their territory. There’s a pleasing thread of wry humour running through this novel which is also a love letter to New York, laced with a certain ruefulness at its makeover:

The city had become like that edgy girl in college, all wild hacked hair and leather, who showed up at reunion with a blow-dried bob and a little black dress, her nose-piercing closed up as if it had never existed

Another witty, absorbing and intelligent piece of fiction from Quindlen, then. If you haven’t yet read her work, I hope you’ll give her try.

Books to Look Out for in August 2018: Part Two

Cover imageIn contrast to the first batch, this selection of August titles has its feet planted firmly in the US. Anna Quindlen’s Alternate Side is set in New York City where Nora and her husband live happily until a terrible incident takes place, shaking Nora’s confidence and dividing the neighbourhood. ‘With an unerring and acute eye that captures beautifully the snap and crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife and a woman at a moment of reckoning’ according to the blurb. Quindlen has always seemed somewhat underrated here in the UK.

I very much enjoyed Seth Greenland’s I Regret Everything a few years back so have hopes for The Hazards of Good Fortune. Set during the Obama presidency, it’s about a wealthy philanthropist who tries to lead a moral life but finds himself entangled in a prosecution which will have dramatic consequences in terms of race and privilege. ‘At times shocking, but always recognizable, this captivating tale explores the aftermath of unforgivable errors and the unpredictability of the court of public opinion. With a brilliant eye for character, Greenland creates a story that mixes biting humor with uncomfortable truth’ say the publishers.

I’ve never got around to reading Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity, daunted by its door-Cover imagestopping size, but that hasn’t stopped Lost Empress catching my eye. Nina Gill is taken aback when her brother inherits the football team she’s quietly been keeping afloat. Meanwhile, Nono DeAngeles is setting about an audacious crime having deliberately got himself banged up in Rikers Prison.Without knowing it, or ever having met, Nina and Nuno have already had a profound effect on each other’s lives. As his bid for freedom and her bid for sporting immortality reach crisis point, their stories converge in the countdown to an epic conclusion’ say the publishers which sounds intriguing although it’s another doorstopper.

Cherise Wolas’ The Family Tabor sounds a little more straightforward. Harry Tabor is about to be honoured as Man of the Decade in recognition of his work with the many Jewish refugees he’s helped to settle in America. Years ago, Harry uprooted his own family taking them across the States from Connecticut to the South West. ‘Wolas examines the five members of the Tabor family as they prepare to celebrate Harry. Through each of their points of view, we see family members whose lives are built on lies, both to themselves and to others, and how these all come crashing down during a seventy-two-hour period’ according to the blurb which sounds highly entertaining.

J M Holmes’ How Are You Going to Save Yourself is about four young men who’ve grown up together but have drifted apart in adulthood as they try to cope with society’s expectations, family pressures and their own self-images. Described as ‘both humorous and heart-breaking’ it’s ‘a timely debut about sex, race, family and friendship’, apparently which sounds good to me.

Cover imageMy last choice for August is from the author of a book I enjoyed very much: Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan all about black American jazz musicians in 1940s Europe. Washington Black sounds very different. The eponymous eleven-year-old is chosen as a personal servant to one of the brothers who have taken over a Barbados sugar plantation, a man obsessed with the idea of flying which results in disaster for him. ‘From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life’ according to the blurb. That jacket alone should win a prize.

That’s it for August’s new novels. A click on any that have caught your eye will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and If you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks shortly…