Emily, Alone [NOOK Book]

Overview

A bittersweet tale of love and longing from the bestselling author of Last Night at the Lobster.

Once again making the ordinary and overlooked not merely visible but vital to understanding our own lives, Stewart O'Nan confirms his position as an American master with Emily, Alone. A sequel to the bestselling, much-beloved Wish You Were Here, O'Nan's intimate novel follows Emily Maxwell, a widow whose grown children have long departed. She ...
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Emily, Alone

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Overview

A bittersweet tale of love and longing from the bestselling author of Last Night at the Lobster.

Once again making the ordinary and overlooked not merely visible but vital to understanding our own lives, Stewart O'Nan confirms his position as an American master with Emily, Alone. A sequel to the bestselling, much-beloved Wish You Were Here, O'Nan's intimate novel follows Emily Maxwell, a widow whose grown children have long departed. She dreams of visits from her grandchildren while mourning the turnover of her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood. When her sister-in-law and sole companion, Arlene, faints at their favorite breakfast buffet, Emily's life changes in unexpected ways. As she grapples with her new independence, she discovers a hidden strength and realizes that life always offers new possibilities.


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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
[Emily, Alone] quietly shuffles in where few authors have dared to go. And it's so humane and so finely executed that I hope it finds those sensitive readers who will appreciate it…Through short, crisp chapters we follow Emily's well-ordered, dignified life, frequently challenged by calamities and disappointments large and small, all gently captured in O'Nan's precise, unadorned prose…Emily, Alone makes the perfect demonstration of O'Nan's humanizing vision.
—The Washington Post
Joanna Smith Rakoff
…O'Nan's best novel yet…[is] heartbreaking stuff…and yet the novel's brilliance lies just as much in O'Nan's innate comic timing, which often stems from Emily's self-imposed isolation from, and disgust with, the modern world…If O'Nan's earlier novels were influenced by Poe, the spectre of Henry James hovers delicately above Emily's Grafton Street home, insinuating itself into O'Nan's spiraling, exact sentences and the beautiful, subtle symbolism that permeates the novel.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
O'Nan checks back in with the Maxwell family from Wish You Were Here in this bracingly unsentimental, ruefully humorous, and unsparingly candid novel about the emotional and physical travails of old age. At 80, widow Emily Maxwell has become dependent on her equally aged sister-in-law, Arlene, to chauffeur them to the rounds of Pittsburgh's country club dinners, flower shows, museums, and increasingly frequent funerals. After Arlene has a stroke, Emily is forced into reclaiming her independence, but she remains clear-eyed about her diminishing future and what she can expect of her two adult children and four grandchildren, giving O'Nan the opportunity and space to expertly play out the misunderstandings, disagreements, and resentments among parents and their grown children. Emily fears saying the wrong things (yet often does) and frets about her grandchildren, who are uninterested in family traditions and lax with thank-you notes. The unhurried plot follows Emily from a lonely Thanksgiving with Arlene to a Christmas visit from her daughter and two grandchildren, Easter with her son and his children, and the eve of her summer departure to Chautauqua. During this time, friends and acquaintances die, Emily observes the deterioration of the neighborhoods she's known for decades, and she continues to converse with her old dog, Rufus. Efficient, practical, stubborn, frugal, and a lover of crosswords, church services, and baroque music, the closely observed Emily is a sort of contemporary Mrs. Bridge, and O'Nan's depiction of her attempts to sustain optimism and energy during the late stage of her life achieves a rare resonance. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Award winner O'Nan returns to the Maxwell family in this sequel to Wish You Were Here. Emily Maxwell, widowed and head of a flawed family beset with disappointments, confronts her own mortality when her sister-in-law Arlene suffers a fainting spell. The doctors can't diagnose the cause, but it is indicative of what's happening to their friends, most in poor health and limited to walkers or confined to wheelchairs. Upon hearing of the death of a friend, Emily asks herself whether she is mourning the passing of a friend or of happier times when they were busy, young, and alive. Gone are the genteel traditions that kept the older generation running smoothly, traditions lacking in her own grown children, Kenneth and Margaret. Margaret, a recovering alcoholic, is divorced and has two children to raise; her finances are a disaster; and she has no job. Kenneth's wife's hostility to Emily causes tension at family gatherings. Emily copes by keeping to her routines, accompanied by her aging dog, Rufus, knowing that she can do only so much to keep the inevitable changes at bay. VERDICT With sympathy and compassion, O'Nan spotlights the plight of aging baby boomers, further enriching our understanding of the human condition. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/10.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews

Another quietly poignant character study from O'Nan (Songs for the Missing, 2008, etc.), this one tracing the daily routines and pensive inner life of an elderly widow.

Emily Maxwell, newly bereaved in Wish You Were Here (2002), is now more or less accustomed to life without her beloved husband Henry. His death and the more recent loss of her best friend Louise are still painful, but she's adjusted. She has her aging dog Rufus for company; she's a regular churchgoer; she reads and listens to classical music; every Tuesday she drives with her sister-in-law Arlene from their separate homes in Pittsburgh to the suburban Eat 'n Park's two-for-one breakfast buffet. Arlene's collapse at the restaurant dramatically closes the first chapter, but otherwise O'Nan's low-key narrative bears out Emily's uneasy sense that "she was at an age where all was stillness and waiting." Holiday visits from her children underscore fraught family relations. Daughter Margaret, a recovering alcoholic in shaky economic circumstances, has always annoyed Emily with her messy feelings and disorganized ways. Son Kenneth is dutiful but reserved; Emily and his wife Lisa dislike each other. Her four grandchildren are in college or beginning careers; "it was hard to follow their lives from a distance." Emily is well aware that she too distanced herself from her family when she married the more privileged Henry, and her unsentimental musings over past and present relationships form the novel's emotional core as nine months unfold from November 2007 to the following July. O'Nan gently depicts Emily—inclined to be as critical of herself as of those who don't meet her exacting, old-fashioned standards—trying to judge less and accept more. She doesn't change so much as let go, learning that an existence diminished by age and loss is nonetheless precious for the pleasures that remain: gardening in the spring, going through childhood mementoes, simply knowing that she has lived, loved and endured.

Rueful and autumnal, but very moving.

The Barnes & Noble Review

The elderly widow, soldiering on alone after her husband's death, long after her children have grown and moved away, may not be the stuff of high drama, but it contains a mother lode (so to speak) of rich material. And why not? Who better to delve into issues of mortality and values than those nearing the end who, ironically, have plenty of time on their hands for deep reflection? These women maintain rich inner lives even as their worlds contract.

Often, as in Clyde Edgerton's hilarious Walking Across Egypt (1987) -- a personal favorite -- plots turn on an unexpected connection between a dowager and a troubled youngster. But in Stewart O'Nan's Emily, Alone, a welcome follow-up to his 2002 novel, Wish You Were Here, the emphasis, as the title suggests, is Emily, toute seule, determined to uphold standards and maintain discipline even as her world erodes.

O'Nan's novels, including The Good Wife, which also convincingly captures a woman's perspective, and Last Night At the Lobster, often focus on blue-collar America. Emily, born in 1931 and rescued from the sticks by her marriage to Pittsburgh engineer Henry Maxwell, is financially well-off enough to help out her struggling middle-aged children. Wish You Were Here first introduced her a year after Henry's death, grappling with family issues -- her daughter Margaret's alcoholism and broken marriage and her son Kenneth's fractured dreams -- during a gathering at the Maxwells' beloved cottage on Lake Chautauqua in western New York before finalizing its sale.

Emily, Alone takes place six years later. Nearing 80, Emily is still going strong both mentally and physically. She still misses the man who "knew the 18-year-old lifeguard she used to be, and the fashionable grad student, the coltish young mother." She continues to live alone in her meticulously kept Pittsburgh house with her portly, gassy, extremely aged spaniel, Rufus, who according to my calculations, must be nearing a record-breaking 20.

The emptiness in Emily's life is compounded by the distance of her family and the recent death of her best friend. Her closest remaining companion is her never-married sister-in-law Arlene, a retired schoolteacher who, despite her alarming driving, is the designated chauffeur on their outings to art and flower shows, club dinners, and, increasingly, funerals. When Arlene suffers a small stroke during their weekly pilgrimage to the Eat 'n Park's two-for-one breakfast buffet, it's a wake-up call to Emily, galvanizing her to crank up Henry's outsized Chevrolet. To her surprise, driving makes her feel "part of something larger again." Her children are shocked when she purchases her first car ever -- a Subaru wagon -- after careful research on Henry's old computer.

Not much happens in Emily, Alone -- which is not to say, of course, that the novel isn't full of interest. Like Evan S. Connell's indelible Mrs. Bridge, Emily, Alone deftly (and more lovingly) captures the texture of the thoughts and days of a comfortable American woman who has outlived her primary role as a wife and mother -- how a crossword puzzle is rationed to last all week and small chores such as distributing tissue boxes around the house or writing thank you notes assume enlarged importance. Emily is all too aware of her static situation, most keenly feeling "her own inertia, her life no longer an urgent or necessary business" during "that gray time of day just before the school buses rolled."

The strength to endure such an attenuated life proves hardest during the long Pittsburgh winter, through which Emily sustains herself with anticipation of gardening and the promise of holiday visits from Kenneth and Margaret and her four grandchildren, which are at once disturbingly disruptive to her solitary routines yet also all too brief. The highlight of her year, eagerly awaited for months, remains her annual summer visit to Lake Chautauqua with her whole family gathered, now reduced to a single week.

O'Nan beautifully evokes a woman who "prized, above all, self-reliance" yet recognizes that she's "outgrown most of her earthly desires," with the pointed exception of wishing she could see more of her children and grandchildren. Emily is an endearing character, fussy yet unusually self-aware and sanguine about her own mortality. She struggles to hold her criticism in check, not just of others -- including Mr. Impatient/ Mr. Fatty/ a.k.a. Rufus -- but of herself. The result is a warmhearted, clear-eyed portrait of a woman in her dotage who understands that life is both awfully long and woefully short, much of it passed in waiting and regret, but never, heaven forbid, about just the past, since "every day was another chance."

--Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101476062
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/17/2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: United States
  • Edition number: 272
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 192,215
  • File size: 279 KB

Meet the Author

Stewart O'Nan
Stewart O'Nan is the author of a dozen award-winning novels, including Snow Angels, A Prayer for the Dying, and The Good Wife, as well as several works of nonfiction, including, with Stephen King, the bestselling Faithful. He lives in Pittsburgh.

Biography

Stewart O'Nan grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, addicted to cartoons, horror comics, Tarzan, science fiction, movies, TV, and garage punk. He studied aerospace engineering at Boston University, where he developed more rarified tastes (Camus, Coltrane, and the Beats), along with a lifelong obsession with the Boston Red Sox. After graduation, he worked as a test engineer for Grumman Aerospace in Long Island, devoting every spare moment he could find to writing. Then, with the encouragement of his wife, he enrolled in Cornell University to pursue a master's degree.

By the time O'Nan had finished graduate school, a few of his short stories had begun to attract some attention. He moved his family west and taught at the University of Central Oklahoma and the University of New Mexico. Then, in 1993, he hit pay dirt when his short story collection, In the Walled City, won the Drue Heinz Prize for Short Fiction. A year later, his first novel, Snow Angels, was awarded a Pirate's Alley William Faulkner Prize. Since then, he has gone on to forge a distinguished literary career. A self-described "fiction-writing machine," the multi-award-winning O'Nan averages a book a year. In 1996, Granta named him one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists.

Although critics try to shoehorn his fiction into the horror genre, O'Nan's writing is far too complex and nuanced to permit such blatant categorization. True, his stories are suffused with trauma and tragedy, and his characters react unpredictably to the stress of terrible events; but the violence in O'Nan's fiction owes as much to Flannery O'Connor as to Stephen King -- two authors he acknowledges as important influences.

In addition to his novels, the prolific O'Nan has written a nonfiction account of the notorious 1944 Hartford Circus Fire. He is also co-author with fellow Bo-Sox fan Stephen King of Faithful, a chronicle of the team's legendary 2004 season.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Stewart O'Nan shared some fun and fascinating facts about himself:

"Growing up, I delivered the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to David McCullough's, Annie Dillard's and Nathaniel Philbrick's houses. The Philbricks tipped you a dime to put it in their screen door."

"The first novels I read with rapt fascination were Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan series -- coverless, bought for a dime apiece at a Cub Scout rummage sale."

"Back in the early '80s, when I'd just begun to read seriously, I met Doris Lessing at the Kenmore Square Barnes & Noble before her very first game at Fenway Park. She seemed genuinely excited, and apprehensive, as if she might be asked to play."

"The library is still my favorite place in the world."

"I'd rather be reading than doing anything else, including writing."

"I'm an obsessive collector -- coins, books, records, baseball cards."

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    1. Also Known As:
      James Coltrane
    2. Hometown:
      Avon, CT
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 4, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Pittsburgh, PA
    1. Education:
      B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 46 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(19)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 46 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2011

    Quiet, lovely, poignant

    If you like books with hard-driving forward motion, this one isn't for you. But if you find a lot of contemporary fiction thin and too clever by far, and long for a quiet, careful work of literature that resonates with tenderness toward humanity, you will probably enjoy Emily, Alone. Emily Maxwell is 80 and lives alone in Pittsburgh with her aging dog, Rufus, in the house she once shared with her late husband. She's thoughtful, reflective, very much a creature of habit; enjoys listening to classical music on the radio; and has given up driving due to fear. But a small, unexpected event causes Emily to broaden her horizons just a tiny bit, when that had seemed impossible. She's a fully-fledged, sympathetic character, and I loved this rich, slow-moving book. Reading it was like lingering in a warm bath.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 15, 2011

    Beautiful and insightful

    This book was slow because it puts you squarely in the mind of a middle class aging woman. I was especially moved that a male author could capture this phase of motherhood with such insight and compassion. If your parents are 70+ this will give you insights and leave you uncomfortable but appreciative.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2011

    Don't bother!

    This was one of the most boring books that I've ever read. Totally mundane. I kept waiting
    for the story to get better...go somewhere...do something....nothing...all the way to the end. The only joy I got from it was from the last page because it was finished. I bought the book in Nook form but had I borrowed it from the library or from a friend I never would have continued reading this dribble. Waste of time and money

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 9, 2011

    loved it.....mostly

    on one hand.... this is a GREAT book. On the other hand, the ending left me wanting something...just don't know what.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 11, 2013

    One of my favorite books ever. Why? Because he captures the ev

    One of my favorite books ever. Why? Because he captures the every day life and family interactions of aging Emily and her family so sweetly, poignantly and realistically. My only disappointment was when the book ended. Still hoping for one more about Emily. She reminds me of my own mother and the insights into growing older are amazing. I recommend this book whenever possible.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    How is it that O’Nan can center an entire book around norm

    How is it that O’Nan can center an entire book around normal, day-to-day activities and still make it thought-provoking, poignant and interesting to read? Seriously, the man amazes me. This is absolutely a “quiet” sort of book. There are no huge plot points to shake things up but there is humor, genuine angst and a fondness for these characters that is surprising as much as it is welcoming.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 15, 2012

    Loved It!

    This is an easy-read and an uplifting novel about a time of life that's often ignored by many authors. The characters are appealing and realistic and I enjoyed the book. I've ordered more of Stewart Nan's novels on the basis of this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted December 3, 2011

    Wonderful Character Study

    O'Nan is a master of showing how even everyday events help to define an individual. He creates in Emily a fascinating character.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    There is no "sample"...

    There is no "sample" to read, only leading pages. Disappointing.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2014

    Wc

    I start to kick my legs

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2013

    Greykit

    Sprint out of a rabbit hole and runs down into another one

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    Snow

    She knocks Lionkit out, then brings Lionkit back to Bloodclan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    Clawkit

    Yes you are right. I will help. They may think im still one of them

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    Caramelkit

    "Greykit and my side. Were rescuing kits." I say quietly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    Stealth

    Pads in and grabs Shinekit and Caramelkit by the scruff an pads briskly to 'blood kill' res 3.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    Shinekit

    Musthave been falsr info

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    Dawnkit to all

    Read what I said at blood kill result 20! It's important!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    Spiritkit, bramblekit

    Spiritkit heads back to her home with bramblekit and lionkit

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    Lionkit

    He nods and heads into the dark, interconnecting hole.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2014

    Nightpelt

    She went faster

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 46 Customer Reviews

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