Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

36525343(Pub date March 20th, 2018)
Writing: 4 Plot: 3 Characters: 3.5
New chat acronym (for me): ICE – I can’t even

Nora loves New York City. She is one of those people who finds “home” when they first move to the city. This is her narrative: her ongoing love story with the city; her slowly unraveling marriage with a husband who is a good man but is becoming unhappy with the life he is living; and the jolt her life receives from a violent act in her neighborhood.

Told through interactions with neighbors from her block (a special cul-de-sac with actual houses right in New York City), friends from college, and work colleagues, we are exposed to an array of opinions, obsessions, stereotypes, and prejudices that are drawn with detail and make sense for that person in that situation. The short but intense violent act brings out discussions on loyalty, racism, and morality. It brings to light a divided city, a divided neighborhood, and eventually, a divided marriage. I appreciate the fact that no character spouts a party line — the opinions are individualistic and internally consistent.

It’s kind of a smaller story than it could have been it really focuses on Nora and how she evolves as a character rather than the Bonfire-of-the-Vanities-style social commentary that it could have been. However, there is plenty of social observation and analysis: the “shadow government” run by the nannies and housekeepers on the block, how to live in the “new cleaner, safer, impossible without money New York” and the general feeling that things are going “awry” on the block. I loved the line “The slightly aberrational spouse was a status symbol too. The husband who cooked. The wife who played golf.” Another great line “The truth was that their marriages were like balloons. Some went suddenly pop, but in more of them than not the air simply headed out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no lift to it anymore.”

I didn’t feel a lot of empathy for the main character, to be honest, and I enjoyed trying to figure out why. She is well written, and there is nothing wrong with her. She isn’t a bad person and in fact works hard to be a good person. It feels like she just fell into an awfully good life without having to work for it and I guess that bugs me. And she doesn’t seem to have a lot of empathy for her husband who clearly wishes a different kind of life. Or rather, she has empathy, but she is unwilling to give up anything that she wants in order to make his life better. It helps me understand my own values a little better – I like anything that makes me think!

Well written, good for fans of introspective, women’s fiction and / or tales of New York City.

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