All the Numbers

( 9 )

Overview

“How much do you love me?” Daniel asked his mother.
“I love you all the numbers.”

What begins as a sunny August afternoon on a bucolic lake turns into a tragedy when a Jet Ski swerves fatally close to shore. It’s a day Ellen Banks could never have prepared for, a day no mother should ever have to live through.

The moment her son James is killed, Ellen must face the unimaginable while trying to remain strong for her older son, Daniel, who witnessed the fateful accident and ...

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All the Numbers

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Overview

“How much do you love me?” Daniel asked his mother.
“I love you all the numbers.”

What begins as a sunny August afternoon on a bucolic lake turns into a tragedy when a Jet Ski swerves fatally close to shore. It’s a day Ellen Banks could never have prepared for, a day no mother should ever have to live through.

The moment her son James is killed, Ellen must face the unimaginable while trying to remain strong for her older son, Daniel, who witnessed the fateful accident and blames himself. Ellen’s shock and grief soon give way to defiance as lawyers and policemen who once vowed to support Ellen’s desire for justice succumb to political pressure and back away. Still, Ellen is determined to see the reckless young man pay for his crime and to heal her family’s deep wounds. But first she must heal herself.

An unforgettable journey of power and emotion, All the Numbers poignantly depicts a woman’s reckoning with her own vulnerability and finding in the wisdom of motherhood the redemptive grace to begin again.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Judy Merrill Larsen’s All The Numbers is sure to join Judy Guest’s novel Ordinary People, and Jacqueline Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean as one of the most talked-about books of its time.”
–Cassandra King
Publishers Weekly
Larsen's maudlin debut traces a year in the life of Ellen Banks, a divorced mother of two whose 11-year-old son, James, gets mowed down by a Jet Ski during the family's annual summer vacation. The novel's best scenes come early and are alive with detail-in the hospital, at the funeral, Ellen walking the dog in the snow with Danny, her surviving son. But after she buries James, the novel loses focus. Ellen throws herself into the case against the Jet Ski pilot, at which point the narrative adopts the mood of an overly sentimental, made-for-TV legal procedural. Larsen throws in a couple of surprises in the book's second half-Ellen arranges an ill-advised talk with the press and coincidentally runs into the jet-skier's mother at a coffee shop-but the case's outcome is never in doubt. There are bright moments, but the book feels like a novella stretched too thin. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A pallid debut of revenge and redemption as a woman grieves the death of her young son. Ellen Banks lives a fairly typical American life-she's a divorced working mother of two boys, with a dog, a cat and a nice old house in Madison, Wisc. During the summer, the three vacation at college friends Anna and Sam's lake house, and it's there one August that all normality is destroyed. While playing in the water, 11-year-old James is accidentally hit by a teenager on a Jet Ski. Rushed to the hospital, James is alive, but the doctors warn that with a head trauma, the next 48 hours will reveal his true condition. A good portion of the story takes place in the hospital as Ellen is tormented by her son's dire condition, but the drama is nonexistent. The reader knows James will die, and the emotional landscape is sadly generic-Ellen is numb, enraged, helpless, and her conversations with friends and family are the stuff of TV medical dramas. After James's death, Ellen carries on with life, though there are noticeable fissures-her relationship with older son Daniel cools as he learns to fend for himself, she loses weight and becomes unfocused and eschews the kind attentions of Bob Hansen, the attorney prosecuting the case. The two begin dating, but Ellen shies away when she considers that their relationship would be built on the death of her son. Eventually, Ellen pins all her hopes of emotional recovery on the trial to convict the teen who ran into James. Her need for revenge is unquestioned by friends and family (though her mother tries to broach the subject) and the novel glides over the interesting moral issue until Ellen sees light and learns forgiveness. Although the author builds a tenderportrait of Ellen and her two boys, particularly the memories she has of James, the story is too predictable and the characterizations too thin to make it engaging or original. The kind of uninspired melodrama seen on made-for-TV movies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345485366
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/25/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter

One

Good God,” Ellen Banks said when she entered the drab, scuffed room that housed the west side Madison branch of the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles. “Could they make this place any more unappealing?”

“What do you suppose they call this color? Sludge?”

Ellen turned to smile at the woman holding the door open for her and answered, “It definitely isn’t in the Martha Stewart Collection.”

The woman laughed in agreement and exited the building.

Ellen groaned as she wended her way to the line for renewing licenses. At first, she was too busy calculating how long it had been since these walls had last been repainted—she noted the decade-old cigarette smoke stains near the ceiling—to notice the length of the line she was standing in. Then she realized that only one person had left her line so she had barely moved in five minutes.

“I thought getting here early would prevent this kind of holdup,” she muttered.

“No such luck.”

Ellen was startled to have her complaint answered by the young man in front of her. She smiled back at him and took a sip of coffee from her Badger football travel mug. She looked at the clock on the wall, then at her wristwatch, convinced the time could not be right. Had she really been in line only eight minutes? Both timepieces must be lying. She started to tap her toes impatiently, then took another swig of coffee. Thank God for thermos mugs, she thought.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” a deep voice barked at her from behind.

“Yes?” Ellen turned eagerly, hoping she was being summoned to a newly opened line.

A stern, uniformed woman with her hair pulled back tightly in a bun glared at her. “Didn’t you see the sign?”

“What sign?” Crap, Ellen thought, if I’ve been wasting time in the wrong line I’ll scream.

“The sign that says ‘No food or drink allowed.’ ”

Oh, please, Ellen thought, you’ve got to be kidding. “I’m almost done with my coffee,” she said to the woman, who seemed to see herself in the role of warden. “Don’t worry.”

“There are no drinks allowed. No exceptions. You’ll have to give it to me to throw away or take it back to your car and then come back in.”

“Look,” Ellen pleaded, “I don’t want to lose my place in line. My coffee’s nearly gone, okay? I’m just here for my annual license renewal.”

“You should have paid attention to the sign before you took your place in line.” The warden didn’t move. Ellen tried to summon up some friendly feelings. I guess if I had to work in this environment every day I’d be a little grumpy, too, she thought.

People around them had started to chuckle and stare. Ellen wasn’t sure the best way to respond to the last statement, but she was pretty sure ignoring it wasn’t going to work.

“You’re so right. I should’ve noticed the sign. I’m sorry.” Ellen tried to sound sheepish, but her words came out too heavily laced with sarcasm to buy her any leniency.

“I don’t believe you’re sorry at all. Return the mug to your car now.”

The young man in front of her assured her he would save her place in line. Ellen thanked him and started to walk out but couldn’t resist first saying to the woman, “Now that you’ve made the room safe from coffee spills, would it kill you to open up another line?”

Thirty coffeeless minutes later, Ellen neared the front of the line. All that stood between her and release was a heavyset middle-aged woman at the counter and the young man who had saved her place in line. The woman conversed seriously, but quietly, with the clerk. Ellen strained to hear what was holding the line up yet again.

“Oh,” the woman whined, “I just don’t know what to do. I’m never sure about this.”

“It’s gotta be your decision,” the clerk responded. She appeared bored and tired as she looked back and forth between the woman and the long line stretching behind her.

“What do you suggest?” the woman asked the clerk again.

Ellen sighed and asked her newfound line friend, “What’s her big quandary?”

“Organ donation.”

Ellen shook her head and watched them talk quietly. Come on, lady, she pleaded silently, I’ve just lost thirty minutes of my life standing right here waiting. While the clerk nodded at the woman, popped her gum, and toyed with her hair, Ellen thought she heard the woman ask about being sure she was really gone before anyone started cutting her open to get at her heart. Again Ellen groaned, then said softly, “Jeez, it’s not like it’ll matter to you if they take anything. You’ll be dead.”

Apparently she had used too much volume—not only did this elicit laughter from those in line with her, but the woman at the counter turned to her, frowned, then said to the clerk, “Just forget it. I can’t decide something this important when I am being pressured.”

As the woman left, Ellen smiled at her in an effort to apologize for her rudeness. So far this morning, I’ve made at least two people angry in this room alone, and I’ve cost the organ donation program a future donor, she thought. Not a great start to my first day of summer vacation.

Ellen pushed her grocery cart through the produce section and stopped to add lettuce and peppers to her cart. She’d already selected peaches, plums, grapes, and strawberries. One of her goals was to eat more like an adult—she kept telling herself that by the time she was forty her diet should be more health-focused and less like a teenager’s, but that deadline was now less than two years away and she hadn’t made any major progress. She bought “healthy,” but more often than not the vegetables turned to liquid in the crisper drawer before she’d eaten them.

“Mrs. Banks?”

Ellen glanced up to see one of her students shopping with her mom. “Hi, Melanie. Hi, Ms. Monroe.”

“Actually, it’s now Mrs. Parker. I got remarried this spring,” Melanie’s mom answered with a broad smile.

“Congratulations,” Ellen said, “that’s great. I had no idea.” She looked at Melanie, surprised that she hadn’t mentioned it to Ellen at school. They’d had all those afternoons of unpacking and numbering books while Melanie fulfilled her community service hours for National Honor Society.

Melanie shrugged in response, then said, “I thought I’d told you. Sorry.”

“Well, have a great summer.”

“We will,” Melanie’s mom said, then added, “It’s going to be an exciting time with Mel starting to look at colleges and me getting ready for a new baby.”

“Oh my,” Ellen said, “you really are gearing up for some big adjustments. How fun.”

“Well, we’ll let you get back to your shopping, but it was good seeing you,” Melanie’s mom said as they headed to the opposite end of the aisle. Ellen smiled and waved, then glanced at the contents of her cart to make sure there were no problematic or embarrassing items. Good thing I haven’t gone down the liquor aisle yet, she thought.

Running into students all over this side of Madison was something Ellen wasn’t entirely used to, even after six years of teaching. The grocery store was pretty benign; the community pool another experience altogether. There she would have to fight the urge to tell the girls to appreciate their flat stomachs, firm butts, and cellulite-free thighs. They take those things for granted, she thought, and they probably look at me and all the other moms here and vow to never let themselves go the way they think we have. Little do they know that body parts have minds of their own.

As she loaded up her cart with the fruit snacks, Lucky Charms, and Pop-Tarts that her sons, Daniel and James, would polish off within days, she winced at how far she had come—or regressed—from the diligence with which she had policed their diets when they were younger. She had breast-fed each of them for a full year, had even made her own baby food. Now they consumed sugared cereal with abandon. Fortunately they were just as ravenous for yogurt, fruit, and milk. But still, the guilt she often felt wasn’t far from the surface, especially when she passed other moms who bought Cheerios and apples and firmly told their toddlers that no, they couldn’t have Cocoa Puffs for breakfast.

Lugging the groceries into the house, Ellen heard the boys laughing and wrestling in the family room. She called to them for some help while trying to shoo away Stella, their golden retriever mix, who eagerly sniffed the bags of food. “Sorry, Mutt,” she whispered, “no rawhides or anything for you in there today.” She hollered again for the boys, knowing that she was competing with the stereo. “Turn it down, guys.”

“Hey, Mom, have we got a deal for you!” Her younger son startled her from behind.

“James, can you hold off on the negotiations until we’ve unloaded all the groceries from the car?”

“Sure. But you’ll love our plan. I promise.”

Ellen smiled. At eleven, James was at such a great age. Still enough of a little boy not to be blasé, but grown up enough to be fun to do things with. He was funny and sarcastic and sweet, and Ellen dreaded the thought of him becoming a moody teenager in a few short years. Daniel, at thirteen, was just on the cusp—some days chatty and happy and friendly, but at other times, with no warning signs at all, he would shut her out, sigh, and roll his eyes at everything she said.

She looked at her sons hauling in the last few bags. Just for a few minutes she paused to try to drink them in without their notice. Daniel was so ready to be independent. He was just starting to fill out. He’d always been thin and wiry, but his shoulders were losing the slope of childhood. By next summer, he’d probably be as tall as she was or taller. How strange it’ll be, she thought, to stare directly into hazel eyes exactly like her own. Did he have any idea how handsome he was? She hoped not. And then James—his pudgy toddler body had been such a contrast to Daniel’s angles, and now, though he’d never be skinny, he was clearly the stronger of the two. She watched him hoist the fifty-pound bag of dog food with ease; in another few years they’d be young men. How did it all happen so fast?

The clatter of a dish falling into the sink brought Ellen back to the present.

“Good move, idiot,” Daniel said to James.

“If you’d put your bowl in the dishwasher I wouldn’t have knocked it over,” James shot back.

“Look, guys, just stop it.” Ellen hated their bickering. “I’ll take care of it, okay.” She stepped between them, hoping to enable a truce. “Nothing spilled. It’s not a problem.” Ellen started putting away the perishables. From the dirty cereal bowls on the counter, and now in the sink, and the nearly empty milk carton in the fridge, she deduced that the boys had eaten breakfast while she was gone.

“So here’s our plan,” James began, having already forgotten the near fight with Daniel. Nothing fazed him. No ill will lasted more than a moment. Daniel, on the other hand, still glared at them both. “We think it’ll work great for you.”

“Okay, buddy, lay it on.”

“Well, you know how you’ve been bugging us to clear out our closets and get our rooms more organized?”

“Gee, I vaguely recall mentioning that to you a few hundred times this spring.”

“Well, see, we agree with you.”

“There’s a shocker. Could you please say that again?”

“Say what again?”

“That I was right.”

“Well, that’s not exactly what I said. I said, ‘We agree with you.’ ”

“Close enough.”

James laughed, and then repeated very slowly and with careful enunciation, “We . . . agree . . . with . . . you.”

Ellen smiled. “Okay, now you can go on.”

“So here’s the deal. We clean up our rooms, you pay us, then you take us down to State Street so we can buy new posters and stuff.”

“Good plan. Except for the ‘you pay us’ part.”

“C’mon, Mom,” Daniel chimed in. “Please.”

Since it was June and Ellen always felt flush from receiving all of her summer paychecks at once, she agreed. As much as she tried to budget her summer money carefully, her checkbook always seemed awfully thin come late August.

“Listen, if you guys want to go today, I’ve got some things to return to Memorial Library. I could let you shop for an hour or so then.”

“Cool,” the boys said in unison as they raced off to their rooms.

“Any clothes that don’t fit, put in a pile for Goodwill. Don’t just throw them out,” she hollered after them.

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Reading Group Guide

1. In the interview with Bev Marshall, Judy Larsen discusses the use of symbolism in All the Numbers (page 276). Did you notice references to numbers in the book? Were they effective as symbols, in your opinion?

2. Discuss some examples of effective symbolism in your favorite novels. When has an author successfully used symbols, and when have you felt an author’s use of symbols was ineffective?

3. One of the surprising moments in All the Numbers is Ellen’s internal debate about organ donation. Were you surprised by her reaction when organ donation was suggested? Do you feel her reaction was realistic?

4. In the interview with Bev Marshall, Judy and Bev discuss the ending of the book. Was the ending satisfactory to you?

5. What constitutes a strong ending for a novel, in your opinion? Have you been disappointed by a novel’s ending in the past? How much bearing did that have on your opinion of the novel as a whole?

6. In the novel, Ellen is criticized for giving an interview to the media before the trial. Did you agree that she should have remained silent or did you feel the interview was appropriate? How influential do you feel the media is in our justice system?

7. Ellen clearly struggles with her romantic interest in Bob. Do you think she is unfair to him? Both Bob and Ellen recognize that they met because of James’ death. Whose argument seems more convincing to you–Bob’s or Ellen’s?

8. Who or what do you think is most responsible for Ellen’s change of heart regarding Ben Buchanan? Her mother’s words seem to fall on deaf ears throughout most of the book–do they finally get through to her or is it seeing Ben’s mom or running into Melanie? Or something else?

9. Does Ellen’s position as a single mother make her more vulnerable? Does any of her anger with Ben Buchanan seem to get mixed up with her anger at Tim, her ex-husband?

10. The lake house is first introduced as Ellen’s “happiest place”– and even the boys see it that way. Does that increase the horror of James’ accident both for the reader and for Ellen? Do you think she would have the same desire for revenge if the accident had happened elsewhere?

11. When the defense attorneys first throw accusations at Ellen, she is stunned and mad at Bob that he didn’t see it coming. Did you have any sense that she would be blamed? Do you fault her or feel that she has to bear some of the responsibility?

12. Ellen is very lucky to have good friends who have clearly sustained her over the years, and that continues with James’ accident and death. What do you think their view of the trial is? Anna especially seems to stay out of the argument–do you get any hints as to whether she agrees with Ellen’s mother that Ellen is being too punitive or aggressive with Ben? Do you think she is?

13. The relationship between Ellen and her son Daniel goes through some real changes. How do you imagine their relationship six months after the final scene?

14. How do you think Daniel would feel about Bob and Ellen dating? How did Ellen’s grief affect her relationship with Daniel? What other factors were affecting their relationship?

15. How did you feel about Ellen’s treatment of Daniel after James’ death?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2013

    I loved this book ! I had to lay it down and take a break a few

    I loved this book ! I had to lay it down and take a break a few times while reading it , it is a very emotional story so keep the tissues close by .

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2010

    Amazingly good book

    This book was amazingly good. I read it several years ago and have recommended it to everyone looking for a good book. The characters were so authentic and I could "feel" the mothers emotional progression through the book. A touching story of love and forgiveness that all mothers could relate to - but hope to never have to live through

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    Best book I've ever read! Very emotional read that makes you wan

    Best book I've ever read! Very emotional read that makes you want to hug your kids a little tighter.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    "Like a bad novel"...

    This book was written by an english teacher, about an english teacher who loses the younger of her two sons when he is hit by a jet ski. The book follows their grief and the ensuing trial against the boy who rode the jet ski. It was painfully predictable, and all the characters seem flat and unrealistic. The woman falls in love with the man defending her son's case. Hallmark movie, anyone? What bothered me the most however, was in describing actions and feelings, she would say, "like in a bad novel", "as in a bad movie", "like in a bad courtroom drama". All I could think was, "Yes. Perhaps that should be a hint to you." I would not recommend this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2008

    GREAT

    I loved this book very thought provoking! Thanks Judy~!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2006

    Outstanding book!

    Yes, I read the back and thought this sounds interesting. I was also really pulled in by what the back didn't say! I know from reading the back that this is about a tragedy that takes the life of a mothers son. Since the book tells me the climax of the story, I am really interested in what else this book is about. Generally, your struck off guard by a death in a book, that's usually a main point, a 'oh my gosh' moment. So, I decided to read this book. It took two sittings to finsih this. Well worth my time! I was so pulled into the the characters lives and what this is ultimately about. It's about losing a loved one and what happens to a person and their family. How a person might or might not cope, about a support system, about family, and who you can count on. It's about recovery...if that's even possible!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    powerful drama

    Divorcee Ellen Banks raises her two sons James and Danny when tragedy strikes. At the annual family summer gala, a Jet Ski driver runs down eleven years old James. He is rushed to the emergency room, but dies. Despondent Ellen is attentive with her other child though she struggles with her loss culminating in the funeral of her son. --- Once James is buried, however Ellen ignores Danny as her lawsuit against the Jet Ski pilot consumes her. Ellen becomes a crusader insuring that James¿ senseless but accidental death is avenged. However, the cost of her obsession to her is great as she fails to move on the cost to the pilot is as great as he lives with guilt but paying the greatest price is Danny who grieves and has no one to help him adjust. --- ALL THE NUMBERS is a powerful drama up until and including the funeral, but spins into a crusader legal thriller that is interesting but takes away from the insightful look at the survivors (from both families) whose lives will never be the same. Readers will understand Ellen¿s fixation, Danny confusion, and to a lesser degree the guilt eating the driver and the despondency of his distraught mom. However, the courtroom hysteria somewhat pulls the audience away from the deep emotional aftermath rather than that serving as a minor springboard to dive deeper into the psyche of each of the living. Still this is a compelling tale of how a tragedy impacts loved ones. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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