Alternate Side: A Novel by Anna Quindlen


The price they had paid for prosperity was amnesia. They’d forgotten who they once had been.

Nora Nolan and husband Charlie have made it, they live alongside others who have worked hard for every accomplishment. Their New York is safe, tight-knit and about to be rocked by a violent act involving one of their own. Just who is at fault? It depends on whose side you are on and really, shouldn’t Nora support the people in her neighborhood? Every village has it’s self-appointed leader or idiot, this one has hotheaded George. When the ‘help’ ( handyman Ricky) dares to park where he shouldn’t, it enrages him. The ensuing chaos now has Nora and Charlie turning on each other, and the ‘comfortable’ marriage no longer seems quite so charmed. But Nora cannot blind herself to the truth, she knows who Ricky is as a person, where everyone else sees him as ‘the help’ there just to do a job, an invisible person.

I think Quindlen is a wonderful writer, but as I don’t live an exclusive existence I had a hard time connecting to all the characters. I rooted for Ricky from the start, it’s just that Nora isn’t someone I warmed up to. Admittedly, I liked her better at the close of the novel. I was also tickled by the whole ‘poop’ incident, people are downright ridiculous in their little acts of vengeance, and there is no denying this sort of ‘crap’ happens. It reminded me of a local stories and national ones where poop bags have led to violence, you can’t make this stuff up! Parking spaces are a coveted prize in New York, as much as their real estate. Charlie and Nora are at odds already when the incident acts as a crow bar, or golf club as is the case, in prying them apart. She complains about New York, he tells her they could move to warmer climates, she doesn’t really want to. Her twin children are away at school and as a mother it’s easy to understand the push and pull of a grown daughter’s needs, how to be just the right amount of invested and knowing when to back off. Her son’s needs are less demanding.

Looking at Charlie, she can remember the early days of desire. But she prods at the thought, “want what you have.”  Is that the best life can give you? That as a life affirmation is depressing! Charlie takes jabs, even if it’s unintended like asking her when discussing why there is really no solid reason to continue living  in the city because, how often do they visit the musuem? She says she she works in one, he says ‘I mean a real one.” Ouch. Charlie is dismissive of her life, as if her accomplishments aren’t ambitious enough, not like his. Her daughter, on the verge of graduation, makes a big decision in her career and it’s telling that her father will look down on her for it, but what moved me the most was when she says to her mother, “I’m not picking on you. I’ve decided not to pick on you anymore.” Crazy to think that is the sweetest moment in the novel, but mothers and daughters will understand. There is a shift that happens, where parents have a different relationship with their children, when they begin to see their mothers and fathers as people.

This novel is about the city, the wealthy and those who work for them, the way they see and treat each other. It’s also about the cracks in a marriage that are ignored. As for the parking lot and the incident, the angry explosions are excessive, is it born from entitlement, from thinking those who make less than you are just a place to release your rage? I had more issues with anyone excusing George and when he is no longer a threat there is still sympathy coming from Charlie, that there was even a question of whose side to take, are we really that bad? It will be interesting to read reviews by those living in the city.  I liked it, but again, I just didn’t think much of the people.

Publication Date: March 20, 2018

Random House




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