Emily, Alone

emily-alone-by-stewart-onanStewart O’Nan’s Emily, Alone is a moving yet unsentimental look at aging, memory and the simple pleasures of life. It is a follow-up to his novel, Wish You Were Here, which you needn’t have read to enjoy this one. Or, as someone who hasn’t as yet read its predecessor, I have no idea what I might be missing, so feel free to correct me on this.

Emily Maxwell is an 80-year-old widow who looks forward to her weekly foray to a Pittsburgh buffet with her sister-in-law, Arlene. But when Arlene suffers a stroke, Emily must get back out on the road again, a charge she takes up with much relish and gravity.

O’Nan takes us into Emily’s private thoughts and feelings, and into the interior world of someone who, being alone, spends a good deal of time analyzing and sorting through the past and the present.

The thing that strikes me about O’Nan, after having read a few of his books now, and, especially in light of my enduring crush on Last Night at the Lobster, is how he writes with such dignity. He brings a quiet dignity, a compassion as well as a critical eye to all of his characters. In sharing the small delights and deprivations of Emily’s daily existence, O’Nan illuminates Emily’s particular experience of aging and captures the human condition.

Emily, Alone is a reflective, subdued novel, but I keep thinking about what I found there. I keep thinking about Emily’s revelations about herself, the arguments and conversations she carries on in her mind with those that are dead, and the fact that the most powerful relationships in our lives don’t end when those people die. I think I will definitely have to read Wish You Were Here. Plus, once I get to it, it will give me an excuse to reread this one.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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