Alternate Side

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 May 2018

Member Reviews

Synopsis 

Tension permeates a close-knit neighbourhood and happy marriage after an unexpected violent act. 

Nora and Charlie Nolan seem to have it all.  They live on a dead end street in a lovely home in a New York City neighbourhood.  Their twins are away at college and all is well.  Nora has always loved the city and Charlie loves it even more now that he has secured a highly coveted parking spot.  One morning, Nora returns home from her run only to discover a terribly tragedy has occurred that has shaken her once tight community.  Cracks start to appear in her seemingly charmed life, not only on the block, but at her job, and her marriage.

Quindlen explores motherhood, being a wife, and a woman in the stages of unravelling.        

Review

A special thank you to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Quindlen is a fantastic writer, and this book is no exception.  However, it took me a long time to get into the book and by time the story really started to develop (after the "incident"), I had checked out. 

I liked the parallel between Charlie and Nora's dead-end marriage with them living on a dead-end street.  But, the parking space and a mundane marriage seem to eclipse the rest of story.  Or maybe because the first part of the book is so drawn out that the reader is just not as vested in any of the issues.  Maybe it's because I live in the burbs, but I couldn't relate to the parking issue and felt that it had too much presence in the story.  Perhaps because NYC was so integral, the city was almost a character in itself, that Qindlen dedicated so much to the parking space.

Unfortunately for me, this one is a pass.  It was just okay.
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This is my first read by Anna Quindlen. I believe her to be a very good writer and will add more books by her to my to be read list.  I enjoyed much about this book. I liked a few of the characters, some not so much.  It is set in New York City.  I imagine a true New Yorker would enjoy it more than I did.  I live in the south. There were references to places I have visited down this way.  GA, and the Carolinas specifically.  

I felt at first that the story was hard to get into. There were a of characters to get to know and place in their relationships to one another.  Nora is the main character and we see most of the plot unfold thru her eyes.  She is married to Charlie. They have twins who are in college. They have a family dog they walk several times a day. They have been married for 25 years.  We get to hear about how they met, dated, engagement and marriage. There are other characters that are fairly important but Nora and Charlie take the lead. 

The beginning is fairly slow and I didn't get fully engaged until about halfway thru.  There is a traumatic event that occurs and all of the people that live on the block where Nora and Charlie own their beautiful (to be envied) New York home are affected in one way or another.  The event changes some people's lives forever.  

The story has strong characters and a few unexpected side stories...like who is leaving dog poop on Nora's doorstep and why. You will have to read for yourself to this one out.  And you might see yourself in some of these folks who live in this neighborhood. I live in a neighborhood and on a dead end street.  My neighbors mostly keep to themselves.  We may speak when we see each other 
pass outside but that is more or less the end of it.  These people are all up in each other's business all the time.  Maybe some like it that way.  I don't believe I would. 

Anyway, thanks to Netgalley and the publisher as well as Ms. Quindlen for an ARC to read in exchange for a review.  I do highly recommend it.  It was entertaining and gave me much to think about. Things like what is important in life, social justice issues, how we treat people and our pets; what it means to be part of a community; family. 4 stars.  
A few quotes I liked:
"When people divorced, she was often surprised, and when they stayed together, sometimes more so. She thought that people sought marriage because it meant they could put aside the mascara, the bravado, the good clothes, the company manners, and be themselves, whatever that was, not try so hard. But what that seemed to mean was that they didn't try at all. In the beginning they all spent so much time trying to know the other person, asking questions, telling stories, wanting to burrow beneath the skin. But then you married and naturally were supposed to know one another down to the ground, and so stopped asking, answering, listening. "

"It seemed foolish, fifteen years in, to lean across the breakfast table and say, by the way, are you happy? Do yo like this life? Familiarity bred contempt, she'd read somewhere, or at least in attention, but sometimes it seemed more like a truce without a war first: these are the terms of engagement, this is what is, let's not dwell on what's not."
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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for an ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.  This had been down on my list for a bit, but I saw the author speak this past weekend, and her eloquence and honesty was a breath of fresh air.  Sooo....I put this one on top and am so glad I did.  I found myself highlighting so many pages.  Nora and Charlie live in an exclusive neighborhood in Manhattan.  The descriptions of the city are so well done.  One can feel the neighborhood.  This story is definitely about first world problems and the people who have them.  That said, Quinlen is masterful at drawing truths about so many issues many of us face.  Seemingly happy marriages, friendships, work relationships and problems, and empty nests.  Part of my delay in reading this was that I didn't "get" the title...it's explained literally, and figuratively.  I highlighted so many passages for great writing and for the passages speaking to me.   Sometimes in life, you have to take a stand, take a side...because when you don't, you really are choosing.  This book is one that I will think about often in the days to come.  Read it!
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The Nolans, married for over twenty years with twin children about to graduate from college, live in small part of the big city. Their lives intersect with their neighbors in ways large and and small, even though their interactions are essentially limited to what happens on their small off-the-beaten path street. Anna Quindlan's writing is pitch perfect, drawing you into this world, allowing you to feel it and see it, even if you've never stepped foot in New York City. A love letter to the Big Apple and a portrait of a long-standing marriage with social justice issues woven into the story in a way that is neither token nor heavy-headed. Highly recommend.
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Anna Quindlen shares a story of marriage and what it takes to keep relationships from breaking apart in ALTERNATE SIDE.  Nora and her husband Charlie seem to have a charmed life.  They own a fabulous home on a dead-end block in New York City.  They have twins that are doing well in college and they share the friendship of good neighbors on their quiet street.  Then, a terrible accident shakes things up in the neighborhood. Relationships fracture and problems radiate into Nora’s everyday life.  ALTERNATE SIDE offers a sensitive look at marriage, motherhood and holding on to individuality at a turning point in life.

This is the first book that I have read from Anna Quindlen since “Black and Blue” and I was expecting more.  The prose is beautiful and well written.  I found it to be quite moving at times.  But, this didn’t make up for what I found to be unlikeable characters and a weak story line.  I did not like Nora or Charlie.  The neighbors weren’t even that enjoyable.  Likeable characters are not necessary for me to enjoy a book.  I quite like flawed and unlikeable characters.  What I don’t like are weak characters and I felt that Nora and Charlie were whiney, unsympathetic and at times even annoying.  I also felt that the author hit me over the head with the fact that the neighborhood was on a dead-end street.  Numerous times this is mentioned.  Street signs, explanations to people that are lost or looking for the park, conversations between the neighbors themselves.  I got it.  It’s a dead end street.  A thinly drawn parallel to the dead-end relationships Nora finds herself in.  And then there’s the “accident”.  No spoilers here, but the majority of the characters refer to what happened as an “accident”.  I didn’t see it that way.  I found it to be a deliberate, violent act.  While not unenjoyable to read, I felt like the book just kind of plodded along and didn’t really go anywhere.  This was a 3/5 star read for me.  The beauty and elegance of the prose is the only reason this book got three stars.  It just wasn’t enough to overcome the dead-end feeling of the book as a whole.  I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  My opinions are my own.
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I have always enjoyed Anna Quindlen's books. The Alternate Side is one of her character driven novels that explores being a parent, being a spouse and being a neighbor. The complacency that has set in in Nora and Charlie's marriage is tested as events challenge their neighborhood and these two find themselves questioning the other in their actions and reactions. I felt that this Quindlen was a bit slower and weaker than previous novels. I enjoyed her writing style, but felt that the events were rather tepid and I wasn't that interested to see how they would come to conclusion. Still, extremely well written by a talented author. I will continue to read Quindlen's work. Thank you to Random House for the netgalley ARC of this e-book.
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So not into this book. Read the first few chapters and nothing happened then read other readers' reviews and realized that nothing much would. Very sub-par for an otherwise excellent writer.
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4.5 Stars

Once I got going into this book, it was a hit! I started it near the beginning of a book slump so I stopped at about 15% and just picked it back up a couple of days ago. That initial lack of interest is what kept it from being a 5 star read for me.

This book was excellent in it's simplicity and quietness. Nothing "extraordinary" happened, but it told about life for this wife and mother in such a beautiful and realistic way. The characters felt real and the interactions, thoughts, and actual drama felt like the kinds of things that we all go through each day. 

The revelations at the end of the book of the main character hit close to home as well. The whole book led up to it but I was especially grateful that it only took up the last few pages. I hate books that have these beautiful thoughts and reflections on life that last for half the book. Although even though this part was so short, it packed a punch.

I would definitely recommend this book and I am grateful to Random House Publishing, Anna Quindlen and NetGalley for the chance to review this free ebook.
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Nora and Charlie Nolan appear to have it all...  two responsible kids in college, a great place on a dead-end street, solid jobs, and the icing on the cake - Charlie just scored a prized parking spot in the lot near their home. 

An incident of violence rocks their tight-knit community, which surprisingly leads to some serious issues for the Nolans.  Lines are drawn in the sand and the neighborhood becomes divided as to whose side to choose. 

This is my first novel by Anna Quindlen (I have several of hers on my to-read list) and it didn't disappoint. Alernate Side makes the reader think about being content in life, having the courage to make changes, the value of relationships, and sadness over what may never be. 

Thank you to the publisher, author, and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Charlie and Nora Nolan are a middle aged couple living in a small private neighborhood on the Upper West Side of NYC. Now 25 years into their marriage, their twin children Oliver and Rachel are studying at college. Charlie wants to sell their town home and move out of the city, although finally getting a coveted parking spot within the neighborhood has sated him for the time being. Nora feels at home in the city, particularly relishing her daily walk to her position directing a Jewelry Museum. 

The novel starts slow and rather disjointed. It is hard to follow the story, and understand what point in time you are currently reading about. I found this to be surprising, as I've read every book Anna Quindlen has had published and this style reads much differently than her other titles.

The book picks up when a violent incident within the neighborhood takes place, rocking neighbors to their core. Tensions rise, and lines are drawn. Although this book has a slow start, Quindlen does a magnificent job peeling away the shiny facade of seemingly perfect families and revealing what may lie beneath.
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Anna Quindlen has so many faithful readers. They will all want to read this, but may be disappointed by the slow pace of the story.
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I didn't know much about this book when I started reading. I quickly started to see the theme of haves and have-nots developing through the stories of neighbors and their help in New York City. I wasn't sure that I wanted to read about the tensions between these wealthy neighbors and their dog poop issues and parking lot feuds. The further I read, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was really a story about a marriage between Nora and Charlie, with the neighborhood and their dependable hired help just a backdrop for their supposedly happy lives.

To most, Nora Nolan's life in New York City is enviable. Married, great job, her grown twins, Rachel and Oliver, off at college. It is clear from the beginning that Nora is far from satisfied with her life although she doesn't seem compelled to do anything about it. She and her husband, Charlie, live on a street filled with holiday parties and sidewalk barbeques. Most of us would agree that--aside from an annoying neighbor or two,--it seemed like a fairly idyllic place to live. But one day a violent incident occurs that starts the unraveling of the neighborhood, along with Nora and Charlie's marriage, in ways that I didn't see coming.

At its heart, this story is about life's changes and how we cope. Quindlen doesn't throw the characters' issue with mid-life in your face but instead lets their stories gradually unfold. I didn't realize how great it was until I was almost at the end. I enjoy a story that is driven by characters, a story with characters that you feel real emotion for and this book does that in spades. Alternate Side is filled with characters that you pity, dislike, tolerate, and perhaps even identify with. The characters felt real, their stories approachable and interesting in a believable way. We spend most of the story with Nora, seeing the world through her eyes. The female characters are all strong, independent, and admirable (mostly.) In contrast, the male characters were struggling through mid-life, small-minded, predictable, and weak. The only likable male character was a homeless man named Phil whose interactions with Nora were some of my favorite in the book.

A big thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing me with an e-galley of Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen in exchange for an honest unbiased review. I think this quick, enjoyable read would be enjoyed by any reader is who is a fan of character-driven, contemporary fiction.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this arc in return for my honest review.

Not sure if the published version will be so disjointed at times or gets cleaned out in the editing.  Overall it was a bit all over the place with plot line, was it about the past, the present or the grandparents oh not them how about Peter, it was too fragmented to keep me engaged.  It was an ok attempt at a book, it just had too many plot lines in one book.
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This books was a bit overwhelming for me in regards to the amount of characters it throws at you. It's very difficult to keep up with the story when you have to remember who is who and what their role is. The story itself is unique and the voice is memorable. Other than the many characters, I really enjoyed it.
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I have been a huge fan of Ms. Quindlen for a long time. I am always anxious to read her books and this one did not disappoint.  Highly recommended!!
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I reviewed this book for RT Bookreviews Magazine, and you can read my review on their site: https://www.rtbookreviews.com/book-review/alternate-side
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I didn't love this book. The writing was annoying and it just didn't hold my interest.
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While I found Quindlen's writing to fantastic and I found humor in the characters, the actual plot of the book was just not for me. I found it to be too slow paced for my liking. I think there are many who would enjoy this book!
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Every Last One & Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen | Double Review

{Common Themes}
Quindlen, A Writer of Women – In both Every Last One and Alternate Side I was struck by just how well Anna Quindlen developed her female leads. Both were women so real I felt like I easily knew them. Mary Beth Latham might be one of my own friends or neighbors, and under slightly different circumstances I might say the same of Nora Nolan. Quindlen thoroughly fleshes out her protagonists and makes an entire story in which every step they take, every decision they make resonates with authenticity.

Family Relationships – It’s clear to me that Anna Quindlen likes to write about what she seems to know best, families. In Every Last One her primary focus was on Mary Beth Latham’s relationships with her three teenage children. As with all teens they could be fun, difficult, and emotional and Mary Beth worried about each for different reasons. Her relationship to her husband was just as real, but took a bit of a backseat in this story, whereas in Alternate Side the relationship between Nora Nolan and her husband was at the heart of its story. Nora’s children were just slightly older and on the brink of being independent. In both books the family relationships rang completely true.

A Community, For Better or Worse – In Every Last One Quindlen built a network of friends (both close and not so close), relatives, employees, other parents, and friends of children to create a real sense of community: wonderful, but sometimes cloying. In Alternate Side, the bigger community was the city of New York in its totality, but within that was the tiny dead-end street where much of the drama of Nora’s life occurred.

Best Friends – I loved that in both books the women whom the stories were about had a best friend in the most fundamental sense. Alice and Jennie, each close friends since college, were unconditionally present for Mary Beth and Nora when needed. That unwavering loyalty is everything that a best friend should be and these two shone.

A Pivotal Event – The fact that both books had a moment that changed the trajectory of the entire story is no huge surprise. Most stories have such a moment, but I was startled by both in Quindlen’s books. The events forever changed the course of her heroines’ lives, admittedly more so for Mary Beth than for Nora. For both women, I appreciated the metamorphosis Quindlen delivered as they came to terms with a new reality.

{Final Thoughts on Each}
Every Last One 

Everyone was right, I should have tried Anna Quindlen a long time ago. I thought Every Last One was amazing. Before I had any idea where the book was going, I was enthralled by the normalcy of the Latham family. They could have been my family, or my neighbors. I liked them. I worried for them because I knew tragedy in some form had to await. What actually happened I never saw coming. I was stunned and also a little awed that Quindlen could so successfully go there. Her resolution of this story felt exactly right to me, perfectly real and that’s why I so loved Every Last One. Grade: A

 Alternate Side

I liked the story of Nora Nolan at a critical time in her life. Her children were out of the house, her husband was restless and their dreams were no longer the same. I also really appreciated the secondary star of this book, the city of New York itself: the lives it contains, the people at odds, the way the city is ever-changing, always moving forward and never looking back. Nora was the embodiment of NYC and that was fantastic! If I only focused on these part of Alternate Side, it was wonderful, but there were a lot of other parts. The entire parking theme that ran through the rest of this story got old. I know parking is a HUGE issue if you live in New York, but honestly, it’s boring to the rest of us. Similarly, the walking of dogs and the rats, I could have also done without. I understand that these conflicts helped to move Nora through her story; I’d have just enjoyed it more had Quindlen found a different way. Still, I liked much more than I didn’t about Alternate Side, so please don’t be scared away by my (or others’) review. Try Alternate Side and decided for yourself, especially if you’re an Anna Quindlen fan as I now am! Grade: B

Note: I received a copy of this book from the Random House (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts.
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I was excited to read Alternate Side as I had really enjoyed Quindlen's previous novel Miller's Valley.   What I have come to realize is that what Quindlen does well is incorporate the setting as a character unto itself.   Whereas Miller's Valley was set in a small rural town with deep roots and focused on the "Have-nots", Alternate Side is told from the perspective of the "Haves".  

Using this sense of place the insular neighborhood in New York City where Nora lives with her husband Charlie assumes a "strange Brigadoon feeling."  It is a place that has been "hermetically sealed, essentially "The land that time forgot".   My thoughts on Miller's Valley were that it "had this warm and fuzzy feel at its core. The characters, though dysfunctional, were very endearing and relatable. You buy into their storylines and hope that they see their way through".  This wasn't so easy to do with Alternate Side.  In this case the characters didn't beg of me to invest in them fully as they weren't fully invested in their true identities.  I feel that this was in part intentional by Quindlen as Nora herself asserts that "life in New York City was an inchoate search for authenticity "when imitation was always dangled before you like a great prize."  The price that many of the characters "had paid for their prosperity was amnesia.  They'd forgotten where they'd come from, how they'd started out.  They'd forgotten what the city really was, and how small a part of it they truly were".
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