Review: Emily Alone

Emily Alone

Emily Alone
By Stewart O’Nan
(Penguin (Non-Classics), Paperback, 9780143120490, December 2011, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

A wonderful, poignant follow-up to Wish You Were Here.

The Rest of It:

When I read Wish You Were Here back in March, I expected to love the writing because so many have gushed about O’Nan’s work, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with this family and that is exactly what I did. The surprise here is that they aren’t all that lovable! There is some dysfunction and of course drama with the oldest adult children, but they are painted with a firm brush and so real, I felt as if I could easily pass one of them on the street. Wish had them all sharing a cabin by the lake over summer vacation. Emily Alone is Emily Maxwell, back home, a few years older and well…alone.

This is by far the more challenging of the two to write. It had to be! With the lake as a backdrop in Wish, and all those kids keeping everyone busy, there was a lot to write about and it took time to know each of the characters. In this book, Emily is at home, doing what she does every day which includes talking to her dog Rufus, getting the mail, and reading her book. She frets about her car’s dead battery, going out in the rain and spends her day adding items to a list that continues to remind her that her days are numbered. Although in perfect health, she goes through the year thinking that is may be her last. As an elderly widow, it certainly could be.

Technically, Emily has the company of her sister-in-law Arlene to spend her days with, but Arlene’s health is beginning to show signs of failure and all of their friends are slowly dying off. What Emily lives for, is time with her family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays which become even more important to her as the years pass, and this particular year is no exception. She still remembers her husband fondly. His presence is still felt in the house, but Emily knows that soon, she will be with him whether she likes it or not.

As I was reading, I found myself thinking about my own mortality and what family means to me and how so often I go through the day not really feeling any particular way and how the days just run together. Not Emily. For her, as mundane as her day may sound, it all means something to her. Each day has importance and that’s an important reminder for anyone.

How is it that O’Nan can center an entire book around normal, day-to-day activities and still make it thought-provoking, poignant and interesting to read? Seriously, the man amazes me. This is absolutely a “quiet” sort of book. There are no huge plot points to shake things up but there is humor, genuine angst and a fondness for these characters that is surprising as much as it is welcoming.

Emily Alone was a real treat. I have Last Night at the Lobster from the library so I’m sure I will dive into that this weekend.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

21 thoughts on “Review: Emily Alone”

  1. You are so passionate about these books, and I have to get both of these out of the library again. I had to return them since they had holds.

    1. I never read my library books during the 1st lending period. I always have to renew at least 3 times before I get to them. So silly for me to even check them out when I have all these others that need to be read. I just checked out more today!

  2. I have put a few ONan books on my TBR list, since reading his new recent novel (the name escapes me right now). I’m glad to read you enjoyed this one, I have the audio but want to read the first book.

  3. I have not read anything by O’Nan, but you make this book sound gentle and quiet, and I fear that if I don’t try it, I will really be missing out. It sounds like a very powerful book in its message, but also very subdued, which is something that I like from time to time. Fantastic review today. I think we can all relate to days running together without much happening!

    1. Make sure you read Wish You Were Here first as Emily Alone is a continuation of those characters, although it can be read as a stand alone novel.

  4. This sounds like a good read Ti. I love those books that seem so ordinary but then leave you pondering many possibilities. Thanks for the review!

  5. I’ve moved Wish You Were Here up so after I finish a couple I have to read, it’s next. Then I know Emily Alone will have to come quickly. I look forward to see what you think of Last Night at the Lobster. I started reading it a while back and couldn’t get into it. I want to try again, I think I was in a mood then. So glad to hear this one is good as well.

  6. I enjoy quiet books and this one sounds especially good. I love your enthusiasm for O’Nan’s books and I’m looking forward to experiencing his writing.. Emily sounds a little sad and lonely but I think that’s normal when your spouse dies first. I love the idea that no matter how mundane Emily’s days are they are important to her. That’s something to think about!

  7. This was one of my favorites of 2011 – I’m so glad you liked it! You’re going to love Last Night at the Lobster, too. O’Nan is such an amazing writer. It’ll be fun to work my way through his backlist.

    1. Some people do find O’Nan’s writing to be slow, but I like quiet books so to me, it’s very interesting. I think people are fascinating creatures if given the time to really look at them.

  8. The only one I’ve read of his is The Odds (I wasn’t the biggest fan ever) but I could see how he makes his characters feel real and authentic and lived in just based on that book.

  9. This one sounds absolutely wonderful! I will be reading both of these this summer. I love his writing and I’m sure I’ll enjoy these. Your insightful review was wonderful!

  10. I’m catching up on some reviews now, so I didn’t see this until now which is funny because I just posted my o’nan review today… I am thinking that if I try him again this is not the one to do it with. I’m afraid that it might seem too quiet or overtly focused on the day to day stuff for me. =/

  11. I’m still on the fence about reading O’Nan but you make me think I really should take a chance. I think I’ll have to make time for both of these!

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