REVIEW: ALTERNATE SIDE, BY ANNA QUINDLEN

 

Some days Nora Nolan thinks that she and her husband, Charlie, lead a charmed life—except when there’s a crisis at work, a leak in the roof at home, or a problem with their twins at college. And why not? New York City was once Nora’s dream destination, and her clannish dead-end block has become a safe harbor, a tranquil village amid the urban craziness. The owners watch one another’s children grow up. They use the same handyman. They trade gossip and gripes, and they maneuver for the ultimate status symbol: a spot in the block’s small parking lot.

Then one morning, Nora returns from her run to discover that a terrible incident has shaken the neighborhood, and the enviable dead-end block turns into a potent symbol of a divided city. The fault lines begin to open: on the block, at Nora’s job, especially in her marriage. With an acute eye that captures the snap crackle of modern life, Anna Quindlen explores what it means to be a mother, a wife, and a woman at a moment of reckoning.

 

My Thoughts: Nora Nolan’s voice swept me along through Alternate Side, like a philosophical journey of life in New York City: a place composed of neighborhoods, marriages, and people moving on to other realities. The rhythm of Nora’s daily life felt like perfection…until it wasn’t.

How could street parking on alternate sides, with another option being a convenient parking lot, morph into a symbol of all that is wrong with the choices we make? Thoughts about the choices people make, like living in Manhattan vs. deciding on a suburban or alternate city kind of life, crept through the pages beautifully. The author’s prose captivated me, even as I felt drawn in by the situations in which the characters found themselves.

Quickly I couldn’t stand Nora’s husband Charlie, but then by the end, I just felt sorry for him. George was so annoying that I wanted to spit on him, but suddenly Jack Fisk earned most of my venom for his horrific actions.

I liked this quote about marriage: “The truth was that their marriages were like balloons: some went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until it was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no lift to it anymore.”

And so on and on, we looked at NY life in general: it moved along effortlessly, and then it transmogrified, turning into a renovation of a life that was built on the past. One character described Manhattan life as a city of the mind.

Could alternate realities rise out of what once was? This great story made me constantly think about life and about how we decide where to live and who we are. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

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