Surrounded by Life
Emily, Alone, by Stewart O’Nan, is a book of quiet yet stunning beauty; steady and trim from the outside, like its protagonist, and, just like her, stirring inside with deep longings, intense observations, and a strong attachment to living. Emily is of the age she claims she never wanted to reach, the very last of her neighborhood’s country club gang of mothers, and living far from her children and grandchildren, who call frequently but not enough, and visit even less often. Emily is tethered to life seemingly only through ties to her sister-in-law Arlene, her own aging dog, and her deep love for her adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. But O’Nan will surprise us, uncovering within his character a capacity for finding so much still to live for — so many ties holding her to people and to places — and providing a reminder to us all of life’s capacity to excite and invigorate, at any age.
The Caregiver’s Bookshelf (New York Times Blog)
How She Carries On
So often, novels and movies with elderly protagonists take pains to depict them in a state of rebellion. They’re breaking out of an assisted living facility. They’re skydiving and climbing the pyramids, pursuing their bucket lists. They’re heading into space for one last, crucial mission.
They’re behaving, in other words, as if they weren’t old. The preferred word for this state, I believe, is “feisty.”
I cherish the newly published novel “Emily, Alone,” by Stewart O’Nan, because the main character doesn’t deny or resist her age.
Dr. Mr. O’Nan,
I’ve been an avid reader for most of my 56 years…especially in my current career as a fiction librarian at the busiest library in the Southeastern United States; the Hoover (Alabama) Public Library. I’ve never been moved to contact an author until picking up *Emily Alone*. I marvel at how the book speaks directly to me. I grew up on tiny Glenview Place off Heberton Street in Pittsburgh. I babysat for a couple on Grafton; went to Dillworth Elementary and Peabody High; shopped at the big blue Sears; ate at Eat n Park (back when you could literally eat and park) and lived and breathed Pirate baseball.
Emily Maxwell’s family dynamics mirror my own; from my lonely but stoic 84 year old mother living alone in Pittsburgh to my challenging relationships with my own far-flung daughters.
Thank you for this insightful testimonial on families and aging and for my personal walk down memory lane. I’ll lobby to see *Emily Alone* on our Book Discussion roster for next year!