Published by Random House
Publication date: March 20th 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Fiction, Social Issues
She’d realized that that was how life was, that certain small moments were like billboards forever alongside the highway of your memory.
It is no secret I love Anna Quindlen. In the kind of way that makes me pushy about her, as in I’ve demanded innocent victims read her, because I think her voice is one of the best in fiction. I still believe that, but also realize that every book can’t be hit. Which is where I was left after reading her latest, Alternate Side. Nora and Charles are in their early 50s and live in a lovely, old home on one of the few dead-end blocks on the Manhattan’s West Side—meaning, no through traffic and the feeling of a cozy neighborhood. Except when it comes to parking which is a blood sport because it is so limited. There is a small parking lot on their street and when it becomes the scene of an incident it shatters their small oasis.
First things first: the incident, while violent, is more about social impact than physical. It’s what happens afterwards, amongst the neighbors and even in Nora and Charles’ home that forms the nucleus of Alternate Side. Issues of entitlement, wealth, and community all come into play. As the controversy widens to city newspapers and news coverage, Quindlen narrows her sights on their marriage. This is where her gift for removing the trappings and wrappings from her characters’ surfaces is best showcased. Nora and Charles have been married for over twenty years and have two children in college. However, Nora describes how Charles makes her feel as
…like that moment when you walk out of the waves, teeth chattering, gooseflesh from shoulder to ankle, and someone wraps you in a towel. That towel is just a towel, ordinary, hum-drum, but at that moment it feels like fur, better than fur, like safety, care, the right thing.
Which may be where the problems originate. To Nora, Charles is safe and ordinary. Does any spouse want to be thought of as hum-drum? Probably not, even if it’s only a secret thought. It’s this kind of insight, along with so many more quotable sentences that comprise the Quindlen I love. Her voice is still as fabulous and relatable as ever, but the plot in Alternate Side serves such a narrow slice of life that it’s not satisfying.