There are books that move you, there are books that make you cry, and then there is “Every Last One”. This book made the reviewer sob and cry more than any other book ever read. Ever. Great sobs of anguish and heart-wrenching emotion.
It is a novel to be cherished, and relished, both for the story-line and the writing. It is beautifully, fabulously written, and if you are a parent, especially a mother, you spend much of the book saying “Yes, oh yes, I know exactly what she means, I know exactly how she feels.”
Reviewing without spoiling the book by revealing too much means, naturally, that only part of the plot can be shared here. “Every Last One” is a minute, highly detailed, extra-ordinarily loving portrait of family life. Mary Beth Latham is the mother of 3 teenage children whom she loves passionately, and is not afraid of showing it, tip-toeing into her 14 year old twins’ bedroom in the morning, to “bury my nose into their necks, beginning to smell the slightly pungent scent of male beneath the sweetness of child.”
Mary Beth, in a word, lives for her family.
She has put her own life and career pretty much on hold, to devote herself to her husband and children. The book is a chronicle of sibling rivalry and growing pains, of the issues of handling twins who are very different, one a popular extrovert, one a secretive introvert. There are friends, school-friends, and neighbours, and the children of neighbours, and Mary Beth’s oldest friend from college, and she cares about them all in varying degrees of exhaustion, as she tries to keep everything together and harmonious.
Her home is also a home from home for her pretty daughter’s oldest friend, Kiernan. Ruby and Kiernan have been friends since they were pre-schoolers, and now they are a little bit in love – or rather, Kiernan is besotted with Ruby, who knows he is. At the outset, Ruby quite likes the adoration, and the attention. Kiernan takes beautiful photos of the the beautiful Ruby, buys her gifts, leaves her little surprises in her own home, which is his 2nd home. He spends much of his time there, and since May Beth loves him, and knows his distinctly dis-functional family life, she allows him to be part of her family, and meal times, and festivities.
The life of an average American family unfolds.
School, sports, camp, Halloween, Thanksgiving, thinking about college applications. Prom dress shopping, step-parents, glasses of wine with the mothers after school. Cooking, supermarket, divorced neighbours, even a tragic drowning in a pool, an event which sends ripples of black misery through the book. All the threads that make up the fabric of small-town, East coast family life are there.
There is a wonderful portrait of Alice, Mary Beth’s friend from her college days, who is an older, unmarried mother, having had her son Liam using donor sperm. Alice phones regularly from New York to ask Mary Beth’s advice. “I am not one of those crazy older mothers” is her leitmotiv, to which Mary Beth always says to herself, “She is one of those crazy older mothers.”
Alice and Liam’s visit to stay with the Lathams is lovely. 3 year old Liam trots happily away with the twins, preferring to hang out with them rather than with his slightly disappointed mother. While the teenage boys negoitate diapers, Ruby drinks with her godmother and mother, the latter a little discomfited by the obvious bond of trust between her daughter and her own best friend.
All of these family and friend vignettes are so familiar in essence, that the book is almost like reading a diary, but all along there is a slight, way-below-the-surface suspicion that it is all a tad too perfect, too loving. Then comes what the back-cover blurb describes as “a shocking act of violence” and the second half of this powerful novel describes the aftermath of this act, and how Mary Beth and her family deal with it.
To say any more would be a spoiler.
Be prepared to cry and gasp out loud with pain at times, and at the end, to sit, as this reviewer did, dazed with emotion.
An unequivocal 10/10.
“Every Last One” is published by Hutchinson and sells in India for Rs 550.
If you wish to buy the book – and it is an amazing read – simply click on the link below. Couldn’t be easier :