ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen

From the Publisher

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

ALTERNATE SIDE was my first Quindlen, but it won’t be my last.

The book begins with an “alternate side” street parking debate and quickly grows into something much more complex, as the parking situation heats and sparks a conflict between two members of the street’s tight-knit community–a conflict that shakes the Nolan’s marriage and puts them on “alternate sides.”  (See what I did there?)  A chain reaction of events slowly puts Nora Nolan over the edge as she comes to realize just how unhappy she truly is.

From the summary, Quindlen’s latest seems like a fluffy women’s fiction selection, chock full of upper-class problems in an affluent neighborhood, but it’s more than that; ALTERNATE SIDE briefly touches on ideas of racism and sexism.  In one instance, Nora contemplates why each homeowner is white and all of the “help” (i.e. housekeepers and handymen) are people of color; in another case, Nora considers taking a different job and struggles deciding what to do when her husband, Charlie, says he would prefer if she didn’t take it.  These insights aren’t a main part of the book, but Quindlen shares enough to spark conversation.

My only complaint with ALTERNATE SIDE are the abrupt transitions between past and present.  There is no clear distinction between flashbacks and the present-day narrative; Quindlen would jump to the past, and I could only tell from the ages of Nora’s children, Oliver and Rachel, who are college-aged in the present.  It’s a small detail, but it did become frustrating.

Overall, ALTERNATE SIDE was a pleasant surprise, and I’ll be looking out for more from Quindlen in the future!

Read if you liked: (1) MODERN LOVERS by Emma Straub for its realistic cast of characters, its meager marital drama, and the indescribable ambiance of New York City; (2) THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer again for the New York atmosphere and enigmatic ensemble, but also for the plot involving a sudden conflict with long-lasting consequences.

Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for an early review copy of ALTERNATE SIDE by Anna Quindlen, which will publish March 20, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


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