06 October 2011

Thursday Tea: Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

The Book: Don't kill me, but Emily, Alone was my first Stewart O'Nan book. Yeah, I'm a bit slow to jump on the bandwagon but now I've got a permanent seat and no one can throw me off.

Emily, Alone is the story of Emily Maxwell, widowed for almost a decade, nearing 80, and comfortable in her Pittsburgh community. She still lives in the house in which she raised her children and has settled into a precise routine, which includes Tuesday breakfast with her sister-in-law and early church services on Sundays. She listens to classical music, reads library books, does the New York Times crossword puzzle, and dotes on her dog.

In O'Nan's brilliant character study, we see many Emilies, from the one who can criticize a friend's funeral to the one who attends art shows at the museum and dinners at the club. Although she thinks back on her marriage and youth and honors her family traditions, Emily isn't stuck in the past. She may have needed a bit of a boost to get back behind the wheel of a car and she may have her financial affairs in order, but she has maintained her vibrancy. Emily has a future-oriented outlook and a mind that's open to new experiences. This is a refreshing and surprisingly uplifting look at aging middle-class women in America.

Emily, Alone is a followup to O'Nan's Wish You Were Here, but I didn't feel lost as a result of not having read the first book. I know many other reviewers have made the following observation, but I'd like to add my voice to the crowd. It is absolutely astounding that Stewart O'Nan has so perfectly captured the inner life of an older woman--not the stereotype we often read about or see on the screen, but an emotionally complex, smart woman who is both brave and timid but faces life straight on, with head raised and shoulders back. Bravo.

Emily, Alone was an Indie Next pick for April 2011. The paperback comes out on December 27 and will have the cover I've shown here (don't you love it?). I listened to the audio edition (Recorded Books, 10 hr, 18 min), read by Andrea Gallo, and my audio review will appear on the AudioFile magazine website in the coming weeks. Note too that O'Nan's website includes a thoughtful reading guide, perfect for book clubs.

The Tea: We went from summer to fall overnight, truly from open windows to heaters just that fast. In celebration of the season, I tried a new tea this week, Adagio Tea's Oriental Spice. The website lists this description: "Tangy and bright Ceylon black tea is blended with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and orange rinds. Fresh and herby-sweet aromas, spicy flavor balanced with citrusy tea, pleasantly dry finish." The aroma alone was enough to win me over. Yum.

The Assessment: Emily would definitely approve of afternoon tea. Would Oriental Spice be too much for her? Maybe at one time, but as Emily finds her sense of self and accepts her present and future, I think she just might treat herself to some fancy tea.

What About You? Lovely fall colors are just about to burst forth on the mountainside behind my house and that makes for great tea weather. Or maybe hot cocoa. What are drinking these days? Oh and let me know what you're reading.

Emily, Alone at Powell's
Emily, Alone at Book Depository
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Thursday Tea was the brainchild of Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

Published by Penguin USA / Viking, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780143120490
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A

Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)
FTC: I buy all teas myself, I am not a tea reviewer.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 10/6/11, 6:43 AM  

Loved this one and thought the audio was very very good.

Sandy Nawrot 10/6/11, 6:57 AM  

Don't feel bad, I've not read her either. There is a much higher chance of me listening to an audio, so I'm going to see if my library has her work. We aren't QUITE at the heater stage (we are lucky to be able to open our windows) but hot tea is starting to sound attractive.

Sandy Nawrot 10/6/11, 6:58 AM  

BTW is early. I meant HIM. I had Emily in my head when I wrote that.

Kate @Midnight Book Girl 10/6/11, 7:26 AM  

I really need to read some Stewart O'Nan, I've been meaning to read Last Night at the Lobster for a long time now. And currently I'm drinking lots of Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Salted Caramel Mocha.

Anonymous,  10/6/11, 11:30 AM  

JoAnn from Lakeside Musings has convinced me that I need to read something by O'Nan. I am unsure of where I will start though!

bermudaonion 10/6/11, 1:10 PM  

I've never read Stewart O'Nan either, but it sounds like I need to.

Anonymous,  10/6/11, 1:13 PM  

Sounds like you're ahead of quite a few of us...I've never read him, either.

Beth Hoffman 10/6/11, 1:26 PM  

Well I am among the group because I've not yet read anything by Stewart O'Nan. But now I will for certain.

Terrific review!

Darlene 10/6/11, 2:26 PM  

I'm with most others. I've never read anything by this author either but it sounds like I should.

Your weather sounds a lot like ours - we went from shorts to winter coats. It's chilly. I'm a coffee drinker so that's my drink of choice most of the time.

I'm just starting The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay today and it's a perfect day for reading - gloomy and rainy.

Zibilee 10/6/11, 2:26 PM  

I also have never read anything by O'Nan, but this books sounds like it might be the perfect place to start. And if there was ever a character who I think would enjoy a leisurely cup of tea, I would have to think it would be Emily! She just sounds like a tea lady!

Nan 10/6/11, 2:48 PM  

A wonderful writeup of a wonderful book, Beth. I really loved it too, as you know. Is the pb cover supposed to be the Pittsburg house, do you think? I've just preordered the book. It is one I want to own.

nomadreader 10/6/11, 3:50 PM  

I just read my first O'Nan book last week (the forthcoming The Odds: A Love Story and absolutely loved it). I was curious if this one required the precursor, so I'm glad to hear it doesn't. I'll pick this one up soon!

Julie P. 10/6/11, 3:51 PM  

I want this one!!!!

JoAnn 10/6/11, 8:45 PM  

Hurray - glad to have you on the bandwagon! O'Nan is such an amazing writer and Emily, Alone will likely be one of my favorites this year. After you finish Wish You Were Here, I'd also recommend Last Night at the Lobster. Can't wait to see what he'll write next...

Sandra 10/7/11, 12:58 PM  

I don't know this writer though I've seen the name. I usually like something more serious but you make it sound interesting.
Our weather is like yours and autumn colours are about to burst out here too. The tea sounds good.
I've missed doing this meme and have decided to start again. I think the cold weather and cleaning out the tea cupboard inspired it. I'm posting an old one to get started and hope to be off to the races again next week. Enjoy your book.


Barbara 10/8/11, 11:07 AM  

As an elderly lady who has never read Stewart O'Nan, I thank you very much for the heads up. Who knows, I may recognize myself a little in Emily although I'm not quite as old.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 10/13/11, 7:40 AM  

If you liked this one, I'd recommend Last Night at the Lobster next. As an old(ish) lady, I think the author nicely captured my people.

Michelle 10/29/11, 6:10 PM  

We went from summer to fall overnight as well. Now it seems from fall to winter too! Glad to see you enjoyed this one and hope to read more of the author's work.

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