Last Chance Saloon

Lucy Sullivan is
Getting Married

The Other Side of the Story

Rachel's Holiday


Anybody Out There?
By Marian Keyes
(William Morrow, $24.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-073130-3
Warning to readers looking for a typical light-hearted Brit Chick Lit book: Anybody Out There? will break your heart.† Fortunately the novel will mend it for you by its conclusion, but you may be rather wobbly for a few days.† Marian Keyes has shown flashes of a serious side in earlier novels such as Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (heroine becomes clinically depressed) and Rachelís Holiday (heroine deals with drug addiction) but never before has she written a get-out-your-Kleenex-and-sob story.† Strangely enough, it may also be her funniest book to date.† †

Keyes fans will already be familiar with the five Walsh sisters, three of whom have already starred in their own novels.† This time fourth daughter Anna is in the spotlight.† We first encounter the former bohemian, who is now a hip cosmetics public relations expert, as she is recovering at her parentsí Dublin home.† Recovering from what is not immediately clear, but itís obvious that she has had a terrible accident that left her in severe emotional and physical pain.† Anna wants to return to her fabulous job and her loving husband Aidan back in New York City, but for some reason her Mum and sisters discourage her from leaving.† So Anna drifts through the days in a painkiller-induced fog, wondering why Aidan isnít returning her calls and e-mails.† Meanwhile youngest Walsh sister Helen tries to enlist Annaís assistance in her fledgling private investigator business and Annaís Mum wonders about the mysterious elderly woman who seems to be forcing her dog to do his business on the Walshesí front lawn.† †

Anna finally regains enough of her strength to return to New York, where friends and coworkers treat her strangely and gingerly.† She faces intense pressure at work to develop new marketing campaign ideas, and Annaís best friend Jacqui has her usual man troubles, but Anna finds it impossible to focus on anything except her search for Aidan.† Flashbacks reveal the coupleís quick, intense courtship, and as the truth finally starts to push through Annaís denial it becomes obvious that she has to confront the biggest challenge of her life.† †

This is a difficult book to review without dropping plot spoilers, although astute readers will understand what has happened to Anna and Aidan long before itís openly stated.† Iíll just say that Keyes proves herself to be a master of emotional honesty, and that Annaís troubled thoughts are so spot-on that I couldnít look at my loved ones without becoming extremely emotional for days.† Her evolution from denial and numbness to anger, pain and recovery are described in perfect detail and the first person narrative provides a sense of unflinching intimacy with the reader.† †

But despite the novelís heavy subject, itís not a depressing read, thanks to interesting subplots, memorable secondary characters and Keyesí trademark wry humor.† Readers of her essay collection, Under the Duvet, already know that the authorís idea of paradise is free makeup samples, and her heroine is fortunate enough to have a job that provides an unlimited supply of this treasure.† Keyesí incisive look at the profession clearly demonstrates that itís also a cut-throat world in which youíre only as good as your latest pitch, and Anna has to muster every shred of her creativity to get ahead.† †

Keyes excels at creating fascinating secondary characters, and readers are treated to glimpses of the already infamous Walsh girls: Claire from Watermelon, Rachel from the aforementioned Rachelís Holiday and Maggie from Angels.† No novel about the family would be complete without the absolutely bonkers Mrs. Walsh, who manages to be annoying, outrageous, prim, selfish and deeply caring all at once.† Fearless and allegedly heartless youngest sister Helen features prominently in the plot, leaving the door open for what will surely be a memorable starring role in a future story.† The e-mails she sends Anna about her adventures as a PI provide welcome comic relief.† Perhaps Keyes added Helenís zany subplot to please her loyal long-time fans of earlier madcap novels.† But surprisingly even Annaís somber story of loss has its share of humorous moments.† †

More than any author I can name, Keyes knows how to capture the giddy closeness of two people in love.† The story Anna relates about the unique way that Aidan dealt with her hypochondria is typical in that it combines inside jokes, tenderness and affection.† True love, laughter and tearsÖby the end of the book your tissue supply may be dangerously low, but you will also be comforted with the assurance that Anna is on her way to finding happiness.† †

It would appear, sadly, that Keyes has only one more Walsh sister to profile, but Is Anybody Out There includes a scene at a family wedding that introduces the reader to several young females of the next Walsh generation. †Perhaps the supply isnít running dangerously low after all.† †

--Susan Scribner

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