Before Everything by Victoria Redel

Before Everything

Victoria Redel

Before Everything is an ode to friendship, and to how one person shapes the journeys of those around her.

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A group of lifetime friends gather together to confront life, love, and now mortality

“Everything you want a novel about life, death, and friendship to be—smart, moving, sweeping, poetic, stinging, just beautiful. I loved these women (and their men) and this elegy to their long-reaching bonds.”
—Dani Shapiro, author of Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage

Before Everything is a celebration of friendship and love between a group of women who have known each another since they were girls. They’ve faced everything together, from youthful sprees and scrapes to mid-life turning points. Now, as Anna, the group’s trailblazer and brightest spark, enters hospice, they gather to do what they’ve always done—talk and laugh and help each other make choices and plans, this time in Anna’s rural Massachusetts home. Helen, Anna’s best friend and a celebrated painter, is about to remarry. The others face their own challenges—Caroline with her sister’s mental health crisis; Molly with a teenage daughter’s rebellion; Ming with her law practice—dilemmas with kids and work and love. Before Everything is as funny as it is bittersweet, as the friends revel in the hilarious mistakes they’ve seen each another through, the secrets kept, and adventures shared. But now all sense of time has shifted, and the pattern of their lives together takes on new meaning. The novel offers a brilliant, emotionally charged portrait, deftly conveying the sweep of time over everyday lives, and showing how even in difficult endings, gifts can unfold. Above all it is an ode to friendship, and to how one person shapes the journeys of those around her.

Advance Galley Reviews

This book is okay. The premise is wonderful--the friendship over the decades of a group of women--but the actual story lacked depth and just seemed to plod along. I really wanted more from this book, since the beginning and general idea was so good. It just didn't deliver the way that I wanted it to.

This book sounded wonderful to me. Who doesn't love a good friendship story - especially when the friends are women who have know each other for most of their lives. This book was that a story of the bonds of friendship and how important friends are during times of conflict, hurt, sickness and loss. The book was adequate. It had interesting, well fleshed out characters and a believable story line. Yet, it fell short for me. I'm not quite sure why. I wasn't a fan of how it was broken up in to "sections" that were sometimes only a couple of sentences long. And the story kind of dragged for me. Again, I'm not sure why. I give it 3 stars because I think there is an audience that would love this book. Unfortunately, I am not part of it.

I found this book a little hard to read since my mother had just passed away. It did highlight friends can help get you through the good times and the hard times. As Anna decides to enter hospice her friends gather around her. Sometimes the characters seem disjointed and there were so many characters to remember. Life is always a journey but fewer characters and more in depth characters would have made this book much more enjoyable to read.

Anyone who has ever supported a loved one through terminal illness will relive the tension and mood in Before Everything. For those who have not, be prepared for a vicarious experience. The title homes in on the Great Divide—life before diagnosis and life after diagnosis. Anna’s friends and family have coped well so far, but with her fourth cancer recurrence, their carefully sustained and nurtured world starts to fray, upending beauty and sense. Small, eventually subverted fictions made fact over time are now returning to unsettle Anna and her friends’ created world. What do we do when an old event or anecdote is revealed as false? Is it ever OK to reveal a lie that was meant to be protective? Key characters are faced either with leaving the past unaltered and focusing on Anna’s last weeks or setting things straight, adding more pain, but gaining clearer understanding. Helen is Anna’s longest and closest friend, and whom Anna has used and lied to. Reuben, Anna’s husband, has always loved Anna but has allowed her to make decisions that hurt them both. Other friends are going through their own family dramas while trying to be there for Anna. She has always been first in all life events and taken center stage. She has been their truth, so if Anna’s truth is flawed, then what? Closure is rarely a simple thing, especially to those with a long, shared history. We wonder if Anna will be allowed to go gently into the night. Does love ultimately balance all? Political and moral questions, such as should assisted suicide be an option, bring even more emotional charge. The novel is divvied up pretty much as the event feels in real life. No matter how many decades the “before” portion lasts, it feels too small and is diminished by the enormity of this moment of dying. With the diagnosis, memories are immediately converted to formal narrative, almost testimonial. The period of dying multiplies degrees of feeling applied to whatever happened before. Happy times take a golden hue. A middling gray feeling is no longer possible, unless it’s in consideration of what is next. In order to read this novel, one needs to make an early choice. It may be read in relation to one’s own experience, which means subsuming the emotionality that occasions dying. Or one may establish distance and focus on literary craft. That I am using the pronoun “one” tells you which way I tried to go but with limited success. The novel draws one in. From a purely observational point, dying is performance art, not so much by the person dying as by those that surround. This is not to say people are fake, rather-- rituals and roles must be fulfilled and concern and support exhibited in various forms. Each step closer to the end is marked by actions intended to demonstrate concern. Yet one person’s prayer flags may be deemed over the top, another person’s presumption of place offensive to others. There will be drama related to dying that is independent of the person actually dying. Considering characters’ motivations is one challenge. Another is navigating this novel to make meaning. It’s a bit tricky because the narrative is not linear, and there are segments of maximalism which almost make the reader beg the story to end already. Yet that’s part of the emotional yank. Hurry up, die! No, wait! That’s horrid, what am I wishing for? The chapters are off balance with some so short, they might best be described as teacup chapters, and others much longer, causing fits and starts in reading pace. Fortunately, each chapter is headed by a word or phrase, sometimes recurring, that serve as a guide post ultimately establishing a rhythm and pattern for plot progression. Recurring chapters entitled Art History are helpful in establishing Helen’s perceptions, as well as providing the reader an emotional breather and more analytical view of the moment. While there are many characters who occupy this story, and certainly Anna is the center, it is Helen to whom we are most drawn. Helen is the one who thought she was closest to Anna, who has fought personal demons, and who has worked hard for truth of vision in her art. Her place as a professional artist is well earned, but there have been expenses. With all the recounting of memories going on, Helen privately reflects upon her children, her actions: “[Younger women say] ‘Jesus, who cares about marriage?’ Being selfish in the service of art sounded virtuous. They were too young to understand the enduring shame, the endless shuttling of backpacks between homes. That tension— what was an ordinary life? what was a singular life? what was happiness?— over the years, this became the subject of Helen’s painting. How do you measure the sacrifices or the passions? How to compose the specificity of everyday surprise?” Now is not the best time to bring these questions to Anna, who is nearly past life. Ultimately, it is Helen who has created distance and her own life beyond Anna, well before the diagnosis. Her shame at choosing art over normal, practical life is clear, but there is a deep, somewhat suppressed anger, a sense of betrayal by Anna, who pushed recklessness and chided Helen for being mousey during their teens, then turns around and chooses convention (hubbie, kids, house) over the wildness that defined her. This hidden anger pushes Helen to be the most supportive, the most upbeat, the most whatever it is a friend could be to someone dying. It is Anna’s last act as leader of the group to help Helen find a future and an epiphany. Without giving everything away, much is to be learned through watching the others during this prolonged period outside of normalcy. Helen’s specialty has been landscapes, unpeopled. She has lived her life somewhat unpeopled, except for Anna. Now she can’t understand how she missed painting the peopled landscape, missed the layered conversations, and missed living with people she loves. Anna will die (no spoiler there), but Helen’s vision is reborn. You can walk away from this novel understanding a couple things. One is that where there is loss, there surely well is pain. The other is that from ugly events can come beautiful truths that become art that becomes life.

A go-at-your-own-pace character study involving friendship, love, illness, parenthood, & growing older. Well written with mostly-flawless transitions between past & present.

Thank you for an advanced digital copy of Before Everything by Victoria Redel in return for my honest review, Before Everything centers around Anna's decision to refuse treatment for recurring cancer and her desire to enter Hospice. Surrounded by her oldest and dearest friends, along with her caregiver husband, stories and memories are shared about their time together. Although the subject-matter is heartbreaking, the story has more of a reflective feel to it. Many of their escapades happened as young girls, and the reader feels the incredible bond among the characters and the love that they have for one another. The novel is a quick read, but I didn't care for the format. Keeping track of the numerous characters, each with their own stories to tell, was not always easy. Additionally, athough I liked the short chapters that moved the story along at a brisk pace, each memory and return to the present were set off with headings that often confused me and interrupted the flow of the story. I did like that this intense subject-matter was not overwhelmingly maudlin, and that even during this time of crisis and grief, there was joy too.

This is a moving story about the endurance of childhood friendships. Anna has entered hospice care and her childhood friends gather around her to remember the past and weigh the future without her. The book was slow-going at first, but it picked up steam about halfway through and had a beautiful ending. Although I thought Redel handled it rather well, there were so many characters that it was hard to keep up with all of them. I found myself going back in the book to figure out who they were. For anyone who has dealt with a loved one at the end of life, this book may be a little intense.

While I was glad I read this book, it was a difficult one to get through. Death is frequently hard to read about, and this book proved no exception.

3.5 stars An enjoyable story (perhaps not the best use of words since it's about a woman choosing to die), all about friendships and respecting those bonds. The protagonist is foregoing any more treatments for her rare form of cancer, and has chosen to live out her days enjoying the company of those she loves most. Four of her friends, who met in elementary school, show up at her home to spend quality time with her before she passes. There is an ongoing issue between those who want her to continue with her treatment, and those who want to respect her wishes. There is also the interesting aspect of what makes a long time friend? Do those who have known you for twenty years not count, just because you have friends older than that? We do get some background into these people's lives, although had the book been a bit longer, I would have liked a bit more to really flesh out some of the characters. Each of the women was dealing with issues in her life that her life long friends can discuss and advise on. I appreciated the fact that while this book deals with a heavy subject matter, it wasn't depressing, and I felt closure upon its ending. My minor issue with this book was that some of the writing was too choppy. There were small segments of just a few sentences interspersed in the story that I felt were supposed to have meaning, but I didn't get it (like, what was with the dog parts?). I ended up feeling like I was missing some point that the author was trying to convey. Overall a good story about friends, and the act of letting go of the bonds of friendship created over time, and through the trials of each of their lives.

This book is a beautifully written depiction of the "unbearable sorrow" of death and dying in the context of a central character who has elected hospice care over further cancer treatment. I especially enjoyed those portions of the novel which showed the games we all play to deny the inevitable -- whether it be monitoring how much the sick person is eating or other types of magical thinking. In the end, "[w]e are here. And then we are not here. For a little while, we are a story." That being said, in the end I did not find the book to be completely satisfying. Death can bring out both the best and worst in most people, but you would not know it from reading this novel. The characters are not fully fleshed out, so the reader gets no sense of their own struggles coming to terms with both death and any unfinished business with the person who is dying.

I've read two similarly themed books in recent months. Both were huge disappointments, so I was a bit apprehensive on starting "Before Everything." I needn't have worried. Unlike the others, "Before Everything" was beautifully written and structurally challenging. Not a light, breezy story (though not without humor) but certainly worth your time.

The book description promises more than it delivers. I believed I would read a book exploring lifelong friendships confronting the terminal illness and death of one of their members. Something like The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood but with a very different ending. This is not that book. The lifelong friendships are very lightly explored, as is the terminal illness. The friends are introduced individually as they interact with the sick member, not as a group throughout their lives. The illness is not a surprise, nor the decision to stop treating it. So the dramatic tension is lost from that event. It's a mild book about life and loss and that's not saying a lot.

An emotionally haunting look into the lives of a group of friends as all of their lives are changed by one's illness. Anna has been battling cancer for years, going into remission and back again. This last time being diagnosed, however, she has decided will be the very last time and she no longer wants to seek treatment. As her old friends gather near to her, memories of their young lives together for Anna, Ming, Molly, Caroline, and her closest friend Helen come rushing back. As Anna works through what she deems will be her final months, she works to reconcile her relationship with her estranged husband Rueben, Helen deals with the effect losing Anna will have on her and the guilt she'll feel about feeling happy in her new relationship, and everyone else through flashbacks sees the intertwined friendship with Anna they've always shared and what losing her will mean for their own lives. "Before Everything" is a mostly sad work with reflection on life and friendship. With disjointed storytelling from past to present and back again all stories converge for an ending that makes the collective of the book whole and worthwhile. Casual readers looking for an emotionally charged book will find it, though you'll have to find the rhythm the author presents first, with almost diary-like entries making their way into an emotional connection to the characters that will keep interest until the very end. A read that might make you disoriented when it first begins and seemingly detached will work to help the reader find the familiar tapestry of life and sickness and then the plot comes into startling focus and the friendships and history of these women become woven into the reader's own.

This is a crowded book. Anna is dying, and in doing so is surrounded by people vying to get close to her, to prove their love for her, to get affection from her. There are the Old Friends, from gradeschool, and the new friends, fellow mothers in her suburban community who have only been around for 20 years or so. The official Best Friend is Helen, from the Old Friends, but it's the new friends who are around from day to day and stuff the fridge full of food Anna is determined not to eat, hastening her own demise. And then there is her long-suffering husband-not-a-husband, who has been separated from her for years but not divorced, apparently more by her decree than his own will. Considering how many characters there are, Redel juggles them quite nicely, and each feels like a real person, but there are just too many of them for me to feel comfortable around them. I suppose this is how extroverts die, and I just don't get it at some fundamental level. I know Anna wouldn't have me as a friend; she makes lists of her faults and attributes, and in one announces that she doesn't like to read and can't befriend women who are not beautiful, so I think she and I wouldn't get along. She's also a math teacher with a very strange relationship to numbers -- she chants little algebra tricks to herself as she dies. So this book was interesting, and I think there are those out there who will love it. But it didn't really grab me. It's a rich community of women, just not women I'd generally hang out with. I got a free copy to review from First to Read.

It's hard to fully describe this book. They say before you die your life flashes before your eyes. At first, I imagined this novel could be Anna's flash, prolonged for the reader to see and understand. But now that I've finished I would say that more than anything this book is a look at how a person can affect other people's lives. There are many POVs: Anna's, her childhood friends (who got the biggest percentage), her not-husband-husband, and more who only got one scene. This constant changing made it hard for me to form a concrete picture of each character and was a little frustrating. But if you can move past that you'll see the focus as I believe the author intended, not as a look at each character, but a look at the big picture. Look at how much these people experienced together, look at how much of a difference Anna made in so many people's lives. It's not sugary sweet. There's misunderstandings, jealousy, and Anna's ready to give up. But it's intimate and touching, without being heartbreaking. Anna's entrance into hospice brings them all together, but the focus isn't on death so much as life.

Before Everything should be on your list of books to read this summer. It's about friendship, loyalty, love, good times, and sad times. I found myself slightly jealous that these women, Anna, Helen, Molly, Ming, and Caroline, had been friends since the 6th grade. To have friendships for 20 plus years is such love. Parts of the book weren't easy to read, but I didn't want it to end, knowing how it would end. This was the first time I've read Victoria Redel, but it won't be the last

Heart-warming & Heart-wrenching! "The Old Friends" - that is what Anna, Molly, Ming, Caroline, and Helen have been calling themselves since sixth grade. Before Everything is a celebration of friendship and love between "The Old Friends" as they walk through life together. The story revolves around Anna who has cancer and is ready to die, but her friends want her to fight. Now they have all come together in hospice and are reminiscing about past experiences, conflicts, mistakes, and love - each one sharing their own personal story of friendship with Anna. Walk with them as they learn to cope with saying goodbye to their old friend. This novel is moving, funny, powerful, and a testimony to love, bravery, and friendship.

I have to be honest and admit I only read about 75 pages of this book. I found the manner in which this was written to be tedious and made my interest diminish. It may have been a stream of consciousness but it made keeping all the characters straight difficult at times. I found myself getting bored quickly so I decided not to finish it.

Before Everything was a narrative of a lifetime of friendships and relationships. When Anna makes the choice to end her life after another diagnosis of cancer, her friendships are analyzed and brought to light. I loved the intricacies in the stories and was captivated by the level of storytelling that this author is capable of. I really found myself drawn to the strengths of each of the women and attached to each of their perspectives. There was a definite lyricism evident throughout the book.

This is a difficult book to read if you've lived through a debilitating disease of a loved one or friend. The fluctuating emotions of wanting them to live but not wanting them to suffer. Anna has cancer, she's decided she's had enough of treatments and roller coaster health. She's ready to die. But her four friends who've been with her since elementary school still want her to fight. They recall early adventures, struggles, mistakes, joys, love while taking us, the reader along for the ride. We witness all those same emotions in their present lives while attempting to deal with their friend's illness because, unfortunately life doesn't stop for other's pain. We get to know each friend intimately and also all the fringe people that have become a part of Anna's life. And, in the end, life goes on, no matter how big the hole some leave when they die. I loved this book of friendship; I cried and laughed; always a good sign!

This book started off a little slow but I am so glad I kept reading. Victoria Redel captures the intricacies of female relationships with profound honesty. As four "old friends" gather to come to terms with the impending death of the fifth, the subtleties, pretty jealousies, secrets, and unbreakable bonds of our relationships are explored. Redel uses flashbacks to develop context and characters in addition to the story of the present. As the story unfolds "new" friends are introduced and the the characters explore the significance of time in the bonds of friendship. Other reviewers have commented on the theme of death pervasive in the novel but I saw it as a celebration of life and choice. I received a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. If your female friends are an integral part of your life this is a book for you! I recommend this novel and look forward to more from Victoria Redel.

I loved this book. Yes, it is the story of a woman who is terminal but it is so much more a story of living. The author captures so well the tumultuous mix of life and death, and all the emotions hopes, letting go and memories that go with it, as each character deals with with the inevitable in his or her own way. There is also good closure to the story, and I was left with a positive peaceful feeling. All in all, a very good read.

My experiences with hospice was far different than in this book. Also, my high school days were way different. Due to these differences I found myself unable to finish this book.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the story but the constant theme of death that permeates it was a bit exhausting. It tells the story of Anna through the eyes of all of the friends that have known her best. It is a story that honors long term friendships that are becoming more and more rare these days, but also a celebration of life and times shared. Unusual in that these friends not only have their bond with Anna but also with each other. Definitely worth the time to read.

This sentimental read balances life & death/past & present while it tells the tale of Anna who is in hospice, but also how she is full of life through the many people in her life. "The Old Friends" - 5 girls (Anna, Helen, Caroline, Molly, & Ming) who have known each other since grade school and now gather together while Anna faces her demise. Initially presented as scattered scenes alternating between the present & past, the book eventually becomes more streamlined and linear when showing how each character is dealing with death. I felt the author hit the right emotional note in this book. Thanks to First to Read- Penguin Books USA for the free copy of this book.

I have to say I had a hard time concentrating on this book. While the premise for the book was good, the back and forth with time was irritating after a while. I lost track of the old friends and the new friends not to mention their kids. I didn't get a good sense of the locations either. I gave up before reaching halfway.

This book was amazing. When I started the book, I wasn't sure I liked the writing style. I am so happy that I read a little more and discovered this was the perfect style for this book. The book is an ode to friendship. The characters are there for each other for life. My wish is for everyone to have the gift of lifelong friends like this group. Anna is the glue that holds all the friendships together. I laughed and I cried. I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Thank you First To Read for the opportunity to read this book through an advance reader copy.

I loved this story about friendships that have lasted decades. It's special when friends become your family. I didn't love Helen, whom I found annoying in her childlike possessiveness. I didn't love the seemingly scattered nature of the narrative. I wondered why Caroline was out of the picture for a while and didn't feel like that was really explored. Despite my frustrations it was an enjoyable book that explored the complications of love, friendship, marriage and cancer.

This is a wonderful story of friendship. I loved this story. It is very relatable. If we are lucky we have friends who become family. We have friends who we can't imagine living without. We have friends who we can't imagine our lives without them being in it. This story gives you a look inside friendship. It gives you a glimpse of different roles in friendship. It gives you an in depth look at one of the best things in the world. This is an emotional story. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. It's an amazing story.

I can't finish this book. So choppy and all over the place. Thanks for the chance.


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