This book is about loneliness, and the experiences of the characters who cope with it. These experiences range between the tragic (Ellen's father, Chris, Jonathan), the heroic (Ellen's mother, Theresa, Mrs. Forsberg), and the "doing the best they can" (Ellen, Jeff, Brian, Jules).
I say loneliness, because human life is lonely. Virtually all of what we are lies beneath the surface. But effective communication is limited to our ability to toss words and feelings into the voids between us. To make it worse, do we transmit and receive with honesty? To make it worse, whose needs am I really meeting? Mine or yours?
I could write about this book for hours, but Amazon says 1,000 words max. Here are a few things that come to mind:
Ellen is a beautiful character. Quindlen uses the first person to share Ellen's honesty and contradictions. Claiming to take after her father, Ellen is steeped in her mother's graceful humanity. Young and naive, she is also ambitious and angry. Yet she lovingly devotes herself to the care of her mother.
This book fails to succumb to the melancholy of the subject. Most of the characters make great strides toward fulfilling and loving relationships, most notably, of course, Ellen and her Mom.
I like Quindlen's writing, which is at times is both blunt and delicate, honest and opinionated, but always thoughtful and revealing.
The book could have ended successfully at any one of the last several hundred sentences. I pictured Quindlen (smile), pounding away at the keyboard, trying to touch on the many important insights pouring from her brilliant mind, before bringing the story to a close.
It's a truly marvelous thing to spend a few bucks on a used book, read it, and experience such a strong emotional connection with a talented, emotional author and her characters.