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Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

Emily, Alone

by Stewart O'Nan

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5904727,771 (3.98)116
Newly independent widow Emily Maxwell dreams of visits by grandchildren and mourns changes in her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood before realizing an inner strength to pursue developing opportunities.



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English (46)  French (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
Although Stewart O’Nan is a man, and not nearly 80, he has given us a marvelous in-depth portrayal of Emily Maxwell, an 80-year old widow living in Pittsburgh.

This is a character-driven novel with no real plot or action, but it is far from dull, and in fact just the opposite. I was eager to watch Emily go about her daily life, interacting with her children, sister in-law, cleaning lady and neighbors, filling her days with museum visits, garden shows, the Eat-In-Park, funerals and preparations for family visits. Emily is a totally three-dimensional character whom we can relate to even if we aren’t 80; her doubts about being a good mother and daughter, her longings for Spring, her bafflement about her political party’s wanderings, her resentment at not receiving Thank you notes from her grandchildren, and her worries about her aging dog, Rufus.

O’Nan has an eye for detail and an ear for conversation. All of his descriptions and dialog ring true. There was only one little thing that would have tipped me off that he was a male writer (had I not already known)and that was when Emily picked up her sister in-laws cosmetic bag to take to her in the hospital and called it a dopp kit. I have never heard any woman call her own or another woman’s cosmetic/toiletry bag a dopp kit. Women use the name dopp kit in reference to men’s toiletry bags, and men use that term for their own or another man’s toiletry bag-even Wikipedia says it is a man’s toiletry bag. Other than this minor little detail the rest of the details seemed flawless.

I love good character driven novels such as Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge (which I thought of often while I read this), and to my delight this book rates right up there with that classic.
( )
  tshrope | Jan 13, 2020 |
November, 2019 ( )
  carladp | Nov 18, 2019 |
4 1/2 stars, really, very close to five, if only for the incredible depth of characterization. The writing is--as per usual for O'Nan--very fine. Unfortunately--also as per usual for O'Nan--not a whole lot happens. Really nothing at all. And I think the book was maybe fifty pages too long to have so little forward movement, no matter how well conceived Emily is.

Alternatively, I may be a touch cranky since I am about to turn forty and my daughter's bat mitzvah is this weekend and it may not have been the perfect time to read a book about growing old, as it only made me feel older than I actually am. And when I am old--I sincerely hope my children call more often than Emily's do. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Somewhat sad and somewhat depressing but isn't that what life is all about when one hits a certain age, wants to retain independence, family is dispersed and friends are dying off one by one? Isn't that a sad commentary about old age in the USA? But O'Nan brings moments of humor too....a real sense of reality.
Emily needless to say is a widow, with her sister-in-law Arlene as her neighbor and only buddy. And her dog that i think is even older than she is ?? The reader follows her life in short chapters. Her memories, her wishes, and what has become HER reality.....the daily minutiae of routine and ritual. " That was how time passed- waiting through everything else to do the thing you wanted. How little fell into that category now..............She thought there should be more to live for."
It may sound boring but i didn't think so. It sounded real. ( )
  linda.marsheells | Aug 3, 2017 |
Like a meditation. A good insight into an old day, I think. A beautiful book. Emily's house is my new safe place in my mind. ( )
  bookscentlover | Mar 13, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
O’Nan’s best novel yet.
Emily, Alone is one of those rare books in which nothing particular happens and yet just about everything seems to be going on. ..Although she dreads becoming “one of those old ladies obsessed with death, hearing it in every tick of the clock and creak of the floorboards, as if it were prowling around the house like a burglar,” the prospect of her demise proves impossible to ignore....This is not to say that the novel is gloomy or morbid....Readers who appreciate psychological nuance and fictional filigree will delight in Emily, Alone.
Which is what makes me enthusiastic about “Emily, Alone.” It 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.

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Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life - startling, unexpected, unknown? - Virginia Woolf
For my mother, who took me to the bookmobile
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Tuesdays, Emily Maxwell put what precious little remained of her life in God's and her sister-in-law Arlene's shaky hands and they drove together to Edgewood for Eat 'n Park's two-for-one breakfast buffet.
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