The reflections, regrets and insights that come with age form the basis of “Emily, Alone,” a quiet and introspective novel by Stewart O’Nan.
In the mind of octogenarian Emily Maxwell, nostalgia for the way her neighborhood once was combines with regret about her maternal past.
Early on, Emily was involved with other young mothers, but in her old age she is alone. Her best friend and her beloved husband, Henry, have both died. She and Arlene, Henry’s older sister, have become companions from circumstance rather than friendship. The two do things together and look after each other.
Every Tuesday Emily and Arlene take off in Arlene’s car for the two-for-one breakfast buffet at the Eat ’N Park.
Emily has given up on being able to navigate her big old car, but she finds riding with Arlene is actually scarier than trying to drive herself. When Arlene falls and ends up in the hospital, however, Emily is forced to drive Arlene’s car.
When Arlene finally gets out of the hospital, Emily continues driving, this time in a new, smaller car.
Strong-willed and independent, Emily nontheless cannot shake some thoughts of her children, now grown and successful, and the stumbles they had in the process of growing up.
For example, she still worries about Margaret, a recovering alcoholic. They had such a tumultuous time when Margaret was a teenager, and somehow Emily cannot let go of those memories. She knows that she was a troublesome and sullen teenager herself and wonders whether her own mother felt about her the way she now feels about Margaret.
This novel beautifully describes Emily’s daily struggle to get through dreary winter days in Pittsburgh, while she longs for the summer, when she can work in her garden.
When winter ends Emily, once again finds life is about living each day with hope. With Emily’s story, Mr. O’Nan sensitively delves into the mind, heart and memory of at least one elderly woman.