Edie Richter is Not Alone, Rebecca Handler’s debut novel, is a tragicomedy. Serious themes and great grief interwoven with laugh-out-loud observations ensure the reader’s interest remains high.
Rebecca Handler, who now lives and works in San Francisco, lived in Western Australia for three years. She reflects this experience in the setting of her book.
While I may not have chosen Eric Richter is Not Alone, I’m glad that we read it at my book club. Otherwise, I might have missed it.
Newly married Edie Richter performs a terrible, unspeakable act which she finds impossible to confess to anyone. This act propels her into the tightly plotted, almost believable story that follows.
Soon after the death of her father, a long-term sufferer with Alztheimer’s disease, she and her husband move to Perth for his work. While she tries to maintain herself in light of her secret, she also struggles to settle into a new and challenging environment.
Forming meaningful relationships in her new surroundings presents additional challenges for her. She is left to her own devices, especially as her husband leaves her to her own devices while he works. Her behaviour continues as impulsive as that which caused her to perform the act which she comitted.
Themes in Edie Richter is Not Alone
Major themes in this book
- Alztheimer’s disease and its consequences for families. This sets the direction of the plot.
- Complicated grief, which pervades the novel from prologue to epilogue.
- Transcontinental migration, even when chosen and time-limited, and the difficulties people can experience.
- The difficulty of creating new, and maintaining old relationships in the light of major psychological trauma.
Point of view
The first person point of view seems appropriate as Edie Richter tells her story of guilt, loss, grief and confusion. Interestingly, the Prologue and Epilogue both employ the second person point of view as Edie seems to muse aloud about the climax of her story and its resolution. This device adds an intriguing additional layer to the novel.
The protagonist narrates the story of her crime and the grief she experiences as a consquence in such a way that we can easily empathise with her. Although her ‘act’ as she calls it may be reprehensible, it becomes difficult for the reader to judge her for what she has done.
Edie Richter presents a many-faceted character. Is she selfish and callous? Or is she, as one reviewer describes her, ‘a witty protagonist whose interior life is in turmoil over the awfulness of her crime’? Are her observations, witty as they are, accurate? Do we like or hate her?
Other characters, however, seem somewhat less rounded. They are flat, often stereotypical, and act as a foil for the protagonist rather than existing in their own right.
The clear, sharp, exquisite writing in this book render the questions of character development irrelevant.
Handler’s experience of three years in Western Australia shines through the pages. It seemed strange to read a novel set in my own suburb (Subiaco) within a short distance from my apartment. So much familiar territory seemed overwhelming at times, as the protagonist describes her journeys around the area. From her descriptions, I can almost pinpoint to within two streets where she lived.
If you like spotting landmarks you know in books you read, you will enjoy this aspecst of the novel. After a while, though, you might, like me, begin to find the information overload somewhat cliched. I kept waiting for a quokka or at least a mention of Rottnest among the places the protagonist described. I didn’t have to wait long, although Edie Richter herself did not go there.
Recommendation for Edie Richter is Not Alone
The novel is, at one level, a quick and easy read. Deeper layers, however, reveal themselves as the reader delves deeper. The in this novel themes affect all of us in some way. The writing delights with its sharpness and hunour.
Ample opportunities for discussion present themselves. At my own bookclub, heated discussion arose on a number of points. This always suggests a good book club choice.
Some of my other book reviews
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
If You’re Happy by Fiona Robertson
The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey