When I was in Louisiana staying at my SFAM’s last month we went to Hasting’s, a southern chain used/new book/dvd/music store. As I’ve been doing every time I enter a used book store for months I looked for a Stewart O’Nan book I read a short review of a while ago called Last Night at the Lobster. It sounded really interesting, so I’ve been keeping an eye out. As usual, bust.
They did have this book, Emily, Alone, and I thought I’d give it a try and see if Stewart O’Nan was worth the obsession. I don’t know that I’ve ever read another book like it.
Emily is an aging widow of very comfortable means, living in Pittsburg. She’s the last of the old guard in her neighborhood and is still mourning the deaths of her husband and her best friend. Her most constant companions are Arlene, her husband’s older sister, her cleaning lady, and her elderly spaniel.
The biggest plot point in the book happens early in the book. Arlene, who has been driving the two of them around town for years, has a fall, and Emily becomes their driver. As she becomes more independent her world opens up a bit.
I say plot point, but really, things don’t happen much in this story. It’s much more a look at the minutia of life of an elderly woman, living alone in 2008/2009 and looking back on her life. Emily expects to die soon and isn’t morbid about it, but she does spend a fair amount of time reflecting on her life. She listens to the radio and reads books from the library, talks on the phone to her children, and looks forward to the grandchildren visiting. It is, in so many common ways, completely heartbreaking.
I read Emily, Alone while I was staying at my SFAM’s house and she laughed at me a bit for how completely I became engrossed in the book. It’s extremely detail oriented but not at all tedious, and I found myself wrapped up in the several months of Emily’s unremarkable life that are shown in the book. This story is basically one long character study, but it’s done with such skill that you don’t miss flashy plot devices in the least. I’ve continued to think on the story since finishing the book, and I think it will be sticking with me for a while to come.