By Anna Quindlen
Read Feb 2021
Alternate Side is Quindlen’s most recent novel and true to form she gets inside a character and welcomes you to live with her. This book is set in New York City, on a small dead-end street of three story houses now worth a fortune and occupied generally for over a decade by their current occupants. Most were bought by couples with hefty means —at least one medical specialist (no GP’s here) or someone in high-end finance etc. The occupants have come to know each other over the years while walking their dogs, raising their children, attending the annual street barbeque (now catered), and attending the holiday party hosted by one of the families.
Nora Nolan moved to New York about two decades ago and remains totally in love with the city. She walks to her job as head of development (fund raising) at a Museum of Jewelry and regularly runs through the city as well. Her husband Charlie was in law but now is in high finance although he is never quite in the inner circle at his firm. Their twin children are now in college so they have the large house to themselves. Charlie would like to move somewhere warm – likely also to have a fresh start at a job—but Nora has no intention of leaving her beloved city.
The book is populated with their neighbors on the street, the people who work for them, and some of Nora’s other friends and family. Their housekeeper/nanny, Charity, has been with them since the children were very small. Ricky is the local handyman everyone on the block uses to fixes whatever needs it. This reader kept confusing several of Nora’s friends, likely because this reader never became invested in them and they weren’t particularly distinguishable to this reader. The male neighbors were more memorable. George is the self-appointed leader of sorts of the block who posts memos regarding pest control, the neighborhood BBQ, and who has taken charge of managing the vacant lot on the block that serves as a parking lot for the special few. Jack is a perpetually angry about anything that hinders his access in or out of said parking lot.
An event occurs that accelerates some major shifts in the neighborhood, shifts that perhaps were already occurring as the various neighbors mature in middle age and beyond.
While this reader related extensively to the protagonist in Miller’s Creek,connection with this protagonist was more difficult for this reader. This is quite likely because this reader is not in love with New York City and is always delighted to be leaving it, even though the reasons for visits are always quite satisfying. The income level required to maintain the type of lifestyle the characters lead is also in a different stratosphere than that of this reader so the problems they encounter are less familiar. The daughter chastises the mother humorously for use of the term “first world problem” as it’s now out of fashion, according to her, but its use was quite appropriate.
Although this reader didn’t relate strongly to the particular environment of the protagonist, Quindlen again does a great job of enabling the reader to grasp her feelings, especially in the later part of the book as her life begins to change dramatically. The reflections on her life that the protagonist shares are quite revealing and genuine and did grab the reader in the way Quindlen’s books always have.
This reader will certainly read the next novel Quindlen publishes and hopes it is soon.