I’ve been on a Anna Quindlen reading-fest recently, with Alternate Side the latest of her books to fall into my lap.
I’ve enjoyed everything of Anna Quindlen’s I’ve read to date, finding her style to be gentle and charming, but was disappointed by Alternate Side‘s tense and aggressive story of a unravelling middle-aged New York couple and their neighbours.
On the surface, Nora and Charlie have an idyllic life. Charlie is an investment banker, while Nora is the director of a Jewellery Museum. Nora and Charlie live in a tight-knit neighbourhood and attend block Christmas parties and barbecues. They have a handyman who works for everyone on their block, a cleaner of their own (heaven!!!) and Charlie has recently gained a car parking position on the block, which is of enormous importance to his self-worth and happiness. Their children are at university and doing well.
There are underlying tensions, though. Charlie wants to move away from New York, but Nora loves being a New Yorker and won’t consider leaving. A neighbour George, is the self-appointed manager of everything that happens on the block and his officiousness is a constant irritation to Nora and the other residents. Another neighbour, Jack, is just plain nasty. One day Jack loses his temper with Ricky, the handyman, for blocking access to the car park and attacks Ricky with a golf club, breaking his leg in several places. The block occupants are divided by their loyalties when Jack is arrested, some taking Jack’s side and others seeing him as a violent criminal.
I struggled to relate to Nora and her problems. I don’t know if this was because she lived such a privileged, inner-city life which is so unlike anything I would want for myself, or if it was because she was so unhappy with her lot. Admittedly, Nora’s daughter was a brat, she and her husband no longer wanted the same things from life and her job was no longer satisfying, but she also had a lot to be grateful for and wasn’t. Alternate Sides kept making me think of middle-aged men and women’s ranting a way through their mid-life crisis.
I’ll probably go back to some earlier books by Anna Quindlen in the hope of finding more of the serene style of Miller’s Valley.