Anna Quindlen * Random House * March 20, 2018 * 304 Pages
Nora and Charlie Nolan live a peaceful life on a quiet cul-de-sac in New York. Their children are off in college, and though Nora and Charlie both work, they also spend a good amount of downtime at home, just walking their dog or chatting with neighbors. Life is pretty chill, until one of the residents on the block gets angry trying to exit a nearby parking lot and somehow ends up using a golf club to smash in the leg of the beloved local handyman. Most people don’t witness “the incident,” but everyone still takes sides, and suddenly the once-quiet and friendly neighborhood is simmering with tension.
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I’ll tell you right now that if you begin this book thinking you’re going to read about a dramatic incident of racially-motivated abuse!, you’re going to be disappointed. Truthfully, “the incident” in the parking lot isn’t that interesting. And more importantly, it’s not the true focus of the book. What really plays center stage in Alternate Side is Nora and Charlie’s marriage—specifically, its slow disintegration.
This book is heavily character-driven. We get backstory after backstory, vignette after vignette. It’s very slow and subtle. And you probably won’t even notice at first, but the book mostly consists of Nora building a case against Charlie, selectively sharing the many tiny grievances that she has suffered while being married to him over the years. (I mean, come on, Reader. Can’t see you see how Charlie is Just. So. Annoying.?)
Honestly, once I realized that the story is mainly about Nora justifying her irritation toward her spouse, I got annoyed. Not because Nora is unhappy in her marriage (shoot, we’ve all been there at some point), and not because (SPOILER ALERT) things don’t work out so good for them in the end… No, what irritated me was that I started to get the feeling that author Anna Quindlen wanted me to hear Nora’s petty grievances…and be on her side. I was supposed to see her as the good guy. Never mind that Nora is whining and complaining every other page, simmering with rage herself but never willing to talk about it. I felt like I was being pushed to sympathize with her—and I didn’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie is super aggravating. But so is Nora. And watching them tip-toe around each other without ever actually communicating made me dislike both of them even more.
I know that plenty of marriages go out with a whimper, not a bang. But reading in such detail about the quiet disintegration of a relationship between two people I didn’t really care for, was tedious and tiresome. I’ve read plenty of books by Quindlen that I enjoyed, but, unfortunately, this was not one of them.
Advanced Reader Copy provided through Amazon Vine.