Choices for Emily

1. The New York Times Book Review has chosen Emily, Alone as an Editor’s Choice:

EMILY, ALONE, by Stewart O’Nan (Viking, $25.95.) In O’Nan’s novel, a quiet widow buys a car and finds herself open to the world again.

2. The Week has chosen Emily, Alone as their Novel of the Week.

Emily, Alone Review: BookPage

Bookpage

The latest novel by Stewart O’Nan (Speed Queen) is an ideal book for a rainy, tea-sipping afternoon. There’s a calm, enveloping tone to the story that belies its unflinching exploration of a woman’s chronically discontented heart. Readers of O’Nan’s earlier novel Wish You Were Here will recognize the Emily of the title as Emily Maxwell, now 80 and widowed and living alone with her dog, Rufus, in a classy residential neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Her husband died years ago, and her children have moved to other parts of the country with their own families. She has remained close to her late husband’s sister, Arlene, and the two of them make weekly forays in Arlene’s car to a breakfast buffet that offers a two-for-one deal on Tuesdays.   This weekly brunch trip is both the high and the low point of Emily’s week. And it’s on one of these outings that we first catch a glimmer of Emily’s odd blend of affection, dependence and resentment toward those she’s closest to, a complicated attitude she holds without seeming to be aware of it herself. When Arlene collapses in a fainting spell at the buffet, Emily is suddenly forced into an independence she’d forgotten she could manage. Taking care of her sister-in-law and herself, and doing a good job of it, gives her a new confidence as she surveys her life and starts the hard work of reconciling herself to its approaching end.   Not much actually happens in the story; its chief pleasure comes from unraveling this little old lady’s messy tangle of emotions. O’Nan never retreats from Emily’s less flattering qualities: she means well, but she can be hypercritical, tight with money, and hung up on outmoded courtesies, and she’s consistently surprised when others fail to take her own bleak view of things. It’s refreshing to see someone who could’ve been a stock character drawn so fully. In fact all the women in the book are well-realized; the men are peripheral, opaque or simply beside the point. That you never really miss them is a testament to Emily’s strength and complexity. She holds her own.

Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

More Reviews of Emily, Alone

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Stewart O’Nan’s ‘Emily, Alone’ returns to Maxwell clan, Pittsburgh

“Emily, Alone” is Stewart O”Nan’s first novel as a Pittsburgh resident. Sure, the Point Breeze native has previously published 12 books, including short-story collections and novels such as “Snow Angels” and “A Prayer for the Dying.”

But “Emily, Alone” is the first book O’Nan has published since he moved to Regent Square from Connecticut two years ago. So it’s fitting the book features the city, especially the neighborhoods of Highland Park and Regent Square.

“I’ve always wanted to write about Pittsburgh more,” he says. “I’ve written stories, and there was ‘Everyday People’ (his 1998 novel set in East Liberty), but I wanted to do a little bit more with this and take on territory that is totally foreign to me, which is old age and being an older woman. So I thought it would be good to be grounded in something I know, which is Pittsburgh.”

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The Denver Post

O’Nan brings it all together in “Emily, Alone”

Stewart O’Nan is a master of introspection. And while “Emily, Alone” is a chapter added to 2002’s “Wish You Were Here,” a reader need not be familiar with the earlier novel to be enriched by this one.

The Emily of the title is the matriarch introduced in the earlier novel who, at that point, was wrapping up affairs after her husband’s death. “Emily, Alone” takes place several years later, as she has settled into widowhood. Her children, absorbed by their challenges, don’t call or visit as often as she’d like. Most of her time is spent by herself. When she gets out, it is usually in the company of her longtime compatriot, Arlene. She has lived past most of her friends.

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The Miami Herald

Emily copes with disappointment, old age

Next to nothing happens in Stewart O’Nan’s Emily, Alone. The 80-year-old title character goes out for breakfast once a week with her elderly sister-in-law. She works at crossword puzzles; tends to her beloved old dog, Rufus; reads and listens to classical music on the radio. Oh, and she buys a car. That’s about all. But this is an O’Nan novel, and it’s as riveting as a fast-paced thriller, albeit one that delves into the life and psyche of an elderly woman.

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Emily, Alone Review: The New York Times (electronic format)

The New York Times Book Review’s review of Emily, Alone is now available on their website.

Stewart O’Nan Tells a Widow’s Tale

Who is Stewart O’Nan? Over the past 17 years, he’s written 11 novels — we’ll turn to the 12th in a moment — as remarkable for their precise, economical language and depth of characterization as for the fact that each is as different from its predecessor, in style, tone and narrative approach, as if it had come from a different author.

What unites these disparate books are their themes — the fragmented and solitary nature of contemporary American life, the degradation of Rust Belt cities and towns, the slippery line between the working and middle class — and a distinct ability to turn toward the dark places from which other writers might avert their gaze. This is, perhaps, a fancy way of saying that O’Nan often veers into the bloody territory traditionally ascribed to genre fiction (thrillers, mysteries, horror, even procedurals), revolving around murders, abductions, mysterious plagues or gruesome accidental deaths, with forays into the supernatural, as in “The Night Country,” narrated by three teenagers killed in a car crash. This is a writer who, like Dickens, you can count on to kill off the little girl — a writer who looks at cars warming in suburban driveways and sees “enough white smoke for a million suicides.”

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More Emily, Alone Reviews

Huffington Post

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.

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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.

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