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Many people are granted the accolade of having sharp insight into relationships and what makes people tick. This is the first thing that comes to mind when reading Alternate Side. Anna Quindlen tackles family, neighbourly and workplace relationships in modern day New York and the way they intersect for the couple at the heart of the book, Nora and Charlie Nolan.

The Nolans live a seemingly wonderful life. Having brought up their two children in a much sought after dead end street they are perhaps unusually close to their neighbours, most of whom have also lived there long term.

For Charlie, their comfortable life is enhanced when he at last gains a spot in the much coveted car park on a vacant block. Acquisition and status play a central role in the depiction of many of the characters.

While Nora’s star is on the rise, Charlie’s career has stalled, leading to his own insecurity and envy of his wife. That their grown up children bear witness is hard for him to cope with and his determination to prove himself becomes all encompassing.

When a violent incident occurs in their street involving people they know, Nora and Charlie find themselves forced to confront their shared beliefs and, until now, unshared differences.

Quindlen’s precise use of language shrewd observation of middle-class life makes the characters absolutely believable and the relationships, whether between parent and child, close friends or neighbours, feel familiar to the reader. The heart of the book, the depiction of a marriage is rendered sympathetically in the most part though there are opinions to be found in the subtext.

Eminently readable, Alternate Side, is a wonderfully exact delineation of human foibles and their attendant messy and painful chaos.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen published by Penguin Random House ISBN 9780812996067

 

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