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. The neighborhood and their dependable hired help are 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’ issues with mid-life in your face but instead lets their stories gradually unfold. I didn’t realize how great this book is 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.
Alternate Sides by Anna Quindlen
Publish Date: March 20, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Where I read: In two days at home
Stephenie’s Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars