Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan

Emily Maxwell is an aging widow living in Pittsburgh, who has found a new spirit of independence.  Her life was routine, the same day after day, with little to look forward to.  Her children and grandchildren do not live in Pittsburgh and she rarely sees them.  The neighbors are not of her generation, she alone remembers what the neighborhood was when the houses were new.  The only friend she has is her sister-in-law,  Arlene.

It is when Arlene becomes ill and faints while they are having breakfast at their favorite restaurant that the spirit of independence is sparked.  Suddenly, Emily is the one responsible for Arlene’s care during her recovery.  Because she has to, Emily takes control.  She starts driving again.   Selling the big Oldsmobile that was her husbands, she buys a Subaru.  So begins her independence.

Emily thinks about the past and has some regrets.  But more importantly she stops living in the past, is fully in the present, and looking to the future.  With her dog, Rufus, as her sounding board, she sets out to right some wrongs and let her feelings be known.  When she visits the graves of her husband and parents she realizes that her life is not over.  She is surprised that she still has things to do and places to go.

O’Nan has written about an old woman who has become invisible to those around her–and to herself.  With insight and sensitivity and a comic sense of the absurd he tells the story of a woman whose life consisted of thinking about how little was left to live for and how little time left to live;  yet, when she must step out of the comfort of her lifeless routines she realizes life is what you make of it.  Then Emily comes to life and begins again.  And Emily is a hoot.

 

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