cover image After Annie

After Annie

Anna Quindlen. Random House, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-22980-4

A 30-something mother of four dies unexpectedly in the affecting latest from Quindlen (Alternate Side). “Bill, get me some Advil, my head is killing me” are the last words Annie Brown says to her husband before she drops dead on the kitchen floor in front of him and their four kids. Practical, kind, and unassuming, Annie was the glue that held together their lives, and the life of her best friend Annemarie. Without Annie, Bill falls apart and has an affair with an old girlfriend. Annemarie spirals back into the drug use that Annie saved her from. Bill and Annie’s oldest son acts up, the middle boy wets the bed, and the youngest son, at six, still believes Annie will walk back through the front door. It’s left to the boys’ older sister, 13-year-old Ali, to come up with makeshift dinners and do the wash. The lesson Quindlen offers is universal and incontrovertible: love and memories are powerful antidotes to grief. After Ali starts seeing her school counselor, things begin to turn around for the family. Though the ending ties everything together a bit too neatly, Quindlen makes the magnitude of her characters’ loss feel palpable to the reader. It’s another acute portrait of family life from a virtuoso of the form. (Mar.)