Book review of After Annie by Anna Quindlen


Annie Brown was the proverbial glue of her family. She picked up her husband, Bill, at a party and they married after their fling led to a pregnancy—the first of many for the Brown family. Annie brought joy to the patients at the nursing home where she worked. She provided accountability for her best friend, Annemarie, when the temptation to revisit addictions flared. Beyond Bill’s trusted life partner, Annie was both role model and caregiver for their daughter and three sons. So when she dies, suddenly, the people around her are not simply bereft—they’re lost. As Bill reflects on his wife’s death, he observes the disjointed way Annie’s loved ones stumble through their grief: “There was some kind of river of loss underneath them all. There was no way to know how to move on.” 

In Anna Quindlen’s latest novel, After Annie, the novelist turns her masterful eye on the lives of the people closest to Annie: Bill, their daughter Ali, and Annemarie. As Quindlen cycles through their perspectives during the first year following Annie’s death, we see the ways the characters circle each other. Ali becomes an adult the moment her mom falls to the floor, absorbing the responsibilities her dad is too shell-shocked to take on. Bill, a plumber, responds to endless calls from the town’s single women. Annemarie initially makes time for Ali but soon drifts away as her addiction surges again. 

Throughout her career, Quindlen’s fiction and nonfiction alike have showcased her attention to detail and ability to weave compelling narratives from the common experiences that comprise life. After Annie follows in the footsteps of Miller’s Valley, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Alternate Side and other Quindlen novels that examine families and the people in their immediate orbits. After Annie is a heartfelt, nuanced portrait of life after loss.

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