Alternate Side

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 May 2018

Member Reviews

A conflict in a parking lot will forever change the lives of many. Alternate Side is a story of a marriage and keeping the marriage together in tough times.
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Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen is not my type of book. I am a fan of Ms. Quindlen's writing, but this story was just too slow for me, I did not care for a single character. I kept reading and reading to the end, hoping to be drawn in or find something that would make me care one bit about any of the characters, but it never happened. It isn't that I don't enjoy a nice, leisurely read, this one just did not seem to hold my attention. Another of Ms. Quindlen's books that I found to be on the slower side was Miller's Valley, but unlike with this one, I grew to love the characters, the setting, and the slow telling matched the tempo of the town.
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This was my first book by Anna Quindlen and I have already added others to my to-read list! This book could be mistaken as a love story to NYC. The story starts off with the city-centric first world problem of a parking space and evolves and ropes in a menagerie of characters from this neighborhood, or city block. This is wonderful commentary on marriage, city living, and all the quirks that come with it.
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Random House and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of Alternate Side.  I was under no obligation to review this book and my opinion is freely given.

Life on their little dead end street in New York City has been a haven for Nora Nolan.  Now that their twins have gone off to college, Nora and Charlie soon discover cracks in their marriage.  After a repetitive occurrence leads to a shocking violent act, how will the tight knit neighborhood respond?  Will Nora's eyes be opened to an alternate future for herself and her family?

Alternate Side is a character study of the neighborhood in which Nora Nolan lives.  Readers will be able to relate to the dynamics of this small group of individuals, especially in how their social issues, attitudes, and perceptions relate to the larger world.  There is a clear picture as to Nora's moral compass and her character is well developed.  The parking lot was a good metaphor, in that the changes it goes through mimics what happens in the actual neighborhood.  The problem that I had with the book was the fact that the conflict is created by characters that are not fully realized.  I never really quite got a feeling for the rest of the neighbors, so the conflict just seemed to be there in order to move the story in a certain direction.  Usually a big fan of Anna Quindlen, Alternate Side is definitely not one of her best works.  For these reasons, I would be hesitant to recommend it to other readers.
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A book written about the haves, and have-nots. In the modern world it's all about accumulating things, A bigger house, a newer car, the best jobs. Their is nothing wrong with this. However, getting lost in this makes you forget that at the end of the day, whether you have the best of everything or not, we're all human. We all have feelings. We're all working to better ourselves and our families. Sometimes the act of human kindness, love without judging, and seeing the other side gets lost. This is a remarkable book that makes you truly think about what's important. A kind of walk a mile in my shoes story.
5 Stars
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Headline:
I adore Anna Quindlen (both her fiction and nonfiction) and saw instances of her brilliant, trademark writing in Alternate Side, but the plot was a bit boring and I know she can do better.

Plot Summary:
When a violent incident happens on Nora and Charlie Nolan’s wealthy Upper West Side block, Nora begins to see cracks in her marriage, friendships, and throughout the neighborhood.

Why I Read It:
Anna Quindlen is one of my go-to authors. I’ve adored most of what I’ve read by her (Every Last One, One True Thing, Miller’s Valley and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake) and think she just “gets” women. 

Major Themes
Marriage, New York City life, class, friendship

What I Liked:
- Alternate Side is a true New York City book. The setting stood out far more to me than any of the characters…and Quindlen brilliantly captures its quirks (and there are many).
- It’s an easy, relatively uncomplicated read (which I sometimes need and suspect you do too!).
- The title is brilliant and will truly resonate with anyone who has lived in NYC. NYC has something called “alternate side parking” (a law that dictates which side of the street cars can park on specific days to improve traffic flow and make room for street sweepers, etc), which causes residents who park on the street to go temporarily insane every time they have to move their cars. It brings out everyone’s true colors and is sort of a microcosm of New York City B.S.
- While the writing didn’t bowl me over like it did in Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and Every Last One, it is quintessential Quindlen and there were numerous passages that reminded me why I love her writing…especially when she talks about women’s experiences.
 
"The slightly aberrational spouse was a status symbol, too. The husband who cooked. The wife who played golf. The husband who took his children to school. The wife who ran her own business. Of course, it was chancier with the women than with the men. You couldn’t push it too far. The marathoner wife who made partner – perhaps. The wife who could benchpress her own weight and made the cover of Fortune – too emasculating. The men, on the other hand, got unlimited mileage out of performing so-called women’s tasks as long as they also had substantial disposable income and significant business cards."

What I Didn’t Like:
- Alternate Side is about a lot of things, but is also kind of about nothing. Is it about an Upper West Side neighborhood, but a somewhat boring one? Is it about a New York marriage, but a somewhat boring one? Is it about an incident in the neighborhood, which wasn’t as earth-shattering as promised? I couldn’t figure it out. An American Marriage and The Mothers were both about a lot of things, but they all gelled together into a coherent story that worked. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Alternate Side had much of a plot and what plot was there felt muddled. 
- Some people prefer Quindlen’s nonfiction to her fiction, but I know from Every Last One and One True Thing that she can write novels where the plot and the writing shine. That didn’t happen here.
- I think this book would have worked better as a nonfiction essay collection about life in New York City for, as Quindlen says, “New Yorkers of a certain sort”, where the “life in New York part” is intentionally the star.
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If you reside in a crowded city like NY, you will immediately identify with the opening scenes of "Alternate Sides", Quindlen's introspective new book.  Charlie Nolan is thrilled when a parking space opens up in his crowded, gentrified neighborhood and the plot takes off from there.  The residents are friendly and know all the minute details of each other's lives.  Their children's lives are intertwined andthey use the same housekeepers and handymen.  Lives change when an unfortunate incident occurs by a neighbor, pitting people against each other and causing friction and disarray.  
Quindlen does a superb job of chronicling the characters' lives by that allowing you to comprehend their emotions.  It's a book that may leave you a bit more understanding of what drives people to do what they do.
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Anna Quindlen is a gorgeous writer, but in spite of the loveliness of the prose, I couldn't get into this one. There are so many names, and so many little things to juggle right out of the gate. I didn't make it more than 30% through. I adore domestic drama, but this one didn't grab me.
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I loved this book. There is something about taking a break from drama and just reading life. This could be my life, this could be yours. I cannot get over just how real the characters are. Well written, although real life, enough of a plot and interest to keep me turning every page. Simple. Real. Poignant. Deep.
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While this book is well-written, I had a hard time getting into this story.  There were some humorous moments, including the narrative explaining what “Alternate Side” means in terms of parking in a big city, that made me chuckle.  Also, I enjoy a book that can shed light on something with which I am unfamiliar, so I really enjoyed the insights into what living in NYC entails.  However, I did not find any of the main characters to be very relatable or likeable, so I was not as invested in the outcome of the story as I have been in her previous titles.  Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my review copy.  All opinions are my own.
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I loved Anna Quindlen's columns back when she used to write them. She still has a lovely way of putting words together in her latest book but somehow the characters didn't really draw me in. I understand that it's often the small problems that make the drama in a person's life but it was hard for me to care all that much about the need for status that these people had.  This wasn't an unpleasant read but it also wasn't all that satisfying.
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“Their marriage had become like the AA prayer: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.’ Or at least to move into a zone in which I so don’t care anymore and scarcely notice. Nora had thought this was their problem alone until she realized that it was what had happened to almost everyone she knew who was still married, even some of those who were on their second husbands.”

This quiet novel has a subtle profundity do it.  There are so many sentences within it that are worth rereading and thinking about.  There are insights into life, identity, friendships, marriage, and class.

The novel, which is told in the third person, is focused mostly around Nora Nolan.  Nora’s twins are out of the house and in college now.  She is married to Charlie, though their marriage seems sad and lifeless.  Her personality is fairly passive, with life and career mostly happening to her, rather than being created by her.  She works for a museum which showcases jewelry donated by wealthy benefactors.  She has a group of close friends  as well as a sister living on the west coast.  These women are the ones she has any meaningful conversation with, not her husband.

Charlie Nolan is unhappy with his job and has never desired to live in New York, which is where they have lived the duration of their marriage.  He has not been doing well at work and upon arriving home at the end of the day, heads straight for the vodka.  He makes fun of Nora’s job and is ever fantasizing about selling their house and moving south.  The one great pleasure for him early in this book is being given a parking spot in the make-shift lot in their dead-end, highly desirable neighborhood.

The neighborhood in which they live plays a large role.  The owners of homes in which the permanent residents live are invited to annual holiday parties at the Fenstermacher’s house.  George, who is married to a thoracic surgeon, is omnipresent, and is continually sending out notices and making himself in charge of the make-shift parking lot and other mundanities of the neighborhood.  The nannies and housekeepers speak amongst themselves and learn gossip about what occurs in the other houses which they then share with their home-owners.  Ricky, the handyman, is shared and highly utilized and valued amongst the neighbors.

This novel seems to creep along in the beginning, a long sad tale in which little happens.  No one seems happy or even likable to the reader.   However, the neighborhood becomes shaken by an event that occurs in the parking lot, jarring relations and feelings among the neighbors and putting them on the receiving end of media attention.  The novel crescendos at this point and then there is the fallout.

Anna Quinlen portrays the Nolans’ marriage as empty and mocks the institution of marriage, alluding to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in the process.  The relationship of the well-to-do’s and those who work for them is often  portrayed as awkward and uncomfortable.  The dichotomy of the lives of the haves and have nots, and how intertwined their lives are, is unsettling.  There is plenty of insight and wisdom contained within these pages.  I just found that I didn’t love the characters.  There seemed to be so little joy and so much negative emotion, that this one was hard to truly enjoy reading.
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I have loved most of Anna Quindlen's books -- but this one was not at the top of my list..  She writes with great wit and eloquence and her storytelling is brilliant..

However much I liked the main character, Nora, I found some aspects of the novel simply too mundane and boring to care about.. All this hoopla about a parking space!  While I was trying to stay interested, a multitude of other characters in this upper middle class community were introduced.  I put the book down and decided to come back to it another day.
I was glad I came back - Nora's wit and accessibility made it well worth the return.
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I adore Anna Quindlen's writing style; from Black and Blue to Miller's Valley I have absorbed every word and enjoyed every moment in the pages of her books.  ALTERNATE SIDE not so much.  You cannot imagine my chagrin while reading this book; so disappointed.

Though Ms. Quindlen's writing is always lyrical and lovely it was not enough to carry this book in which literally nothing happens. I have read character studies where there is not a lot of action and been very entertained and invested in the story; this did not even feel like a character study.

The parallel of the disintegrating neighborhood and Charlie and Nora's disintegrating marriage was not lost on me but was not enough for me to invest in the story or the characters.

Anna Quindlen remains one of my favorite authors and I well definitely read whatever she writes next but cannot recommend this book in good conscious.
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Loved this book and have said so to everyone, in social media and elsewhere! I didn’t love living in New York even though briefly, and worried as I started it that it would be too inside New York, but it was, as always, Anna Quindlen exploring the human spirit.
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It’s a slightly painful look at upper middle class New Yorkers and their marriages,social habits and moral values. It was a bit sad but it did make me think about the times we live in. I liked it, would recommend it but didn’t love it
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Well written book but not my cup of tea. I could not get into the characters. Thanks for the review copy.
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At one point in Alternate Side one of the Nolan twins scolds Nora over what she calls "first-world problems." That's sort of what this book hinges on, particularly the first-world problems of upper-middle class Manhattanites.

New York City itself plays big role in the book and some reviewers have pointed out that there will be readers who can't relate to the first-world problems this neighborhood faces or life in Manhattan. That may be true but it shouldn't necessarily stop someone from reading the book. After all, I've read, and enjoyed, many books set in the South, or California, or France and I've never lived there. It's one of the things that makes reading great: the chance to really learn about the way a different group of people live. Even if they are upper-middle class Manhattanites who think that paying $350 a month for an off-the-street parking spot is a bargain.

Quindlen uses parking throughout the book, in fact, to help tell a story about the have's and the have-not's, marriage, parenthood, and values. Alternate side refers to more than just a particular parking regulation in parts of Manhattan that has residents of the Nolan's dead end block scrambling on a daily basis; it refers to the different ways people can see an issue, the different sides of the socio-economic strata, the different ways parents and children view the world.

I'm a huge Quindlen fan and I sort of feel the same way about her as I do about Jane Austen - even one of her books that's not my favorite is still better than most. Alternate Side is one of those books. There are a lot of interesting ideas here; there was a lot that I felt really spoke to me or really put truth into words. But...it is not my favorite Quindlen book. Why, I keep wondering? Well, those people who said readers wouldn't be able to relate to these characters are right to an extent; I did have trouble connecting to these characters. Since this is a book that's so character driven, it's tough to connect with the story because of that. But, a week after reading the book, I'm still thinking about it and about what Quindlen has to say about communication between husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbors, coworkers, employers and employees.

I'm still thinking about what Quindlen has to say about society.
"The women were talking about people, the men talking about things. It was why so many of the men prospered on Wall Street and in the big law firms, where things could be turned into money and people were interchangeable and even insignificant, and there were hardly any women running the show."
I'm still thinking about what Quindlen had to say about marriage and relationships.
"Charlie, one-l no-d Nolan, literal, guileless, all the things that would eventually make her sometimes want to scream, on that night, in this city, made her feel like that moment when you walk out of the waves, teeth chattering, gooseflesh from shoulder to ankle, and someone wraps you in a towel. That towel is just a towel, ordinary, humdrum, but at that one moment it feels like fur, better than fur, like safety, care, the right thing."
"...they all assumed that if their marriages ended, it would be with a big band: the other woman, the hidden debts. Nora had had more reasons than most to imagine that, veteran of a grand passion built on a big lie. But now she thought that was an aberration. 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 life to it anymore."
So, while this might not have been my favorite Quindlen book, I'm happy I read it. Any book that keep you thinking long after you read it is a good thing, isn't it?
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2.75 stars, rounded up to 3.

My deep and abiding love for Anna Quindlen drew me to this book without reading anything about the storyline.  I'm still looking for the specific words for why it fell short for me, but it did.

This is the story of Charlie and Nora - a middle-aged upper-class couple who live on a unique dead-end street in the Upper West side of Manhattan.  I'm not personally especially familiar with the ins and outs of Manhattan living, but I love New York and have read a lot about living there as well as having spent a good deal of time there simply exploring.  That said, I just couldn't relate to a lot of the intrinsic details of the story because it relied so much on the specific experience of living IN the city.  Parking, the parking lot, the ins  & outs of wealthy people and their experiences with their staff, their handyman and the dynamics between the families on the street all play into the story.

It was a little slow for me initially, despite the fact that I'm fairly close in age to the main characters and can relate to the idea of surviving a marriage post-departure of the children that are the focal point of a marriage for the first 15-20 years.  

I love the way Anna Quindlen writes.  I highlighted a number of passages for their poignancy.   I liked the characters a lot, but I just didn't love or hate any of them.  It was an enjoyable story but I doubt anything about it will stand out to me in a few months.
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Captivating, suspenseful, entertaining novel! This beautiful thriller kept me on the edge of my seat while I was reading it! Would highly recommend to those who enjoy this genre.
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