All Together Now by Matthew Norman
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: June 15, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Contemporary, Vacation Reading
After State of Terror I was in desperate need of reading that would unclench my jaw. I was grateful to find it with Matthew Norman’s All Together Now, an entertaining novel about a group of high school friends now in their 30s, coming back together for the first time in almost a decade.
Robbie is a math whiz, the kind of guy who can do algebra in his head (I hate that!). His three closest friends in high school are Blair, the artsy beauty and popular girl everyone loves; Wade, the wannabe writer who pines for Blair; and Cat, the feisty protectress of them all even as she struggles with her own sexuality. They come together at a prep school in Baltimore, cementing their friendship by all getting kicked out of said high school right before graduation. Each goes on to separate lives, staying in touch intermittently until adulting overtakes them. Robbie is the only one who stays on everyone’s radar because he’s in the media all the time thanks to the financial acumen that made him a billionaire.
But now, Robbie is dying. No one knows. He wants to revisit the lost days of youth with his best friends and he wants to help them. Because for as much as they read about him, he knows everything about them. Blair may be a happily married mother, but she’s stopped painting, something she used to love. Wade managed to get published, but his first novel got only a tepid response and no one wants to publish his second novel. Cat is an associate television producer in L.A. pining for a woman who won’t commit. Each is at a sticking point in their life, at an age when it feels like more doors are closing than opening.
All Together Now takes place over the Memorial Day long weekend in a town that was a summertime haunt when they were young. With Robbie’s money it’s a fantasy getaway—a gorgeous beach house fully stocked with everything anyone might want and no request unfilled. Every beloved detail from their teen years makes an appearance, from food to favorite places. It’s all so surreal that when Robbie tells them he’s sick, Wade can only reply, “You can’t die, you’re rich.” Which is funny, but, of course, not and just one example of what makes these characters feel very real.
Author Matthew Norman perfectly captures both the pull and push of school friend reunions. The pull of the immediate intimacy, the camaraderie from a singular shared experience. But there’s also the push to maintain what may now be a façade. The fear of falling short with people who knew you when all that lay ahead was dreams and possibilities. It seems odd to say a novel about a dying man is fun, but the incongruity between sorrow and humor is part of the intelligence and thoughtfulness that makes All Together Now easy, heartfelt reading.
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