55 pages 1 hour read

Anna Quindlen

After Annie: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2024

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Summary and Study Guide


After Annie is Anna Quindlen‘s 10th novel and follows the deeply emotional journey of the Brown family after their wife and mother, Annie, dies suddenly. The novel delves into the family‘s first year of living without Annie as they experience the profound impact of grief and struggle to redefine themselves and hold onto their best memories of Annie after this unexpected loss.

Anna Quindlen is a celebrated American author and journalist who rose to become a prominent columnist for The New York Times, where her syndicated column “Public and Private” won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992. Quindlen is also widely acclaimed for her contributions to contemporary literature; she is the author of numerous bestselling novels, including Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue, which explore such topics as family dynamics, social justice, and the complexities of modern life. One True Thing is a semi-autobiographical work that was adapted into a feature film starring Meryl Streep and Renée Zellweger. Quindlen‘s nonfiction works include A Short Guide to a Happy Life, and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Quindlen also won the Mothers at Home Media Award in 2001, as well as the National Humanities Medal, which was bestowed by President Obama in 2010.

This guide refers to the 2024 Penguin Random House e-book edition.

Content Warning: Both the source material and this guide contain descriptions of substance use disorder, pregnancy loss, and child abuse, as well as a brief reference to racist behavior.

Plot Summary

Bill Brown met Annie while working for a plumbing company and studying to become a police officer. Annie was attending community college with hopes of progressing to nursing school. Since the first grade, Annie had big plans to travel the world with her best friend, Annemarie. Soon after she begins dating Bill, Annie gets pregnant, and they hastily plan a wedding. Annie forgoes nursing school to care for her growing family, and Bill quits school and takes over the plumbing business. Bill’s mother, Dora, allows them to live in her home but refuses to let them remodel. Annemarie and Annie remain close friends, but their life paths diverge. Annie finds work at Green View nursing home, while Annemarie starts a successful business selling Mennonite artisanal goods to boutiques. When Annemarie has her wisdom teeth removed, she becomes addicted to the prescription painkillers. After Annemarie blacks out on the steps of a Mennonite home, Annie rescues her and hides her in the nursing home while she detoxes. Annemarie later enters a long-term rehab facility and maintains her sobriety by attending Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings and adhering to Annie’s tough-love accountability. Annemarie marries a man named Tom, but they don’t have children, and Annemarie experiences several pregnancy losses.

On a cold, snowy night in February, Annie Brown returns home from her job at Green View nursing home to prepare dinner for her husband, Bill, and her four children, Ali, Ant, Benjy, and Jaimie. Annie complains of a headache and collapses on the kitchen floor, dying from an aneurysm. In the days that follow, Bill is so emotionally distraught that his mother and Annie’s sister, Kathy, must make all the funeral arrangements. Annemarie wants to help but keeps her distance from the family because Bill distrusts her. Still in shock, everyone thinks Annie’s body looks like a mannequin in the casket. Ali hates hearing all the platitudes offered by well-meaning friends, while Ant is angry, and the youngest, Jaimie, doesn’t yet understand that his mother isn’t coming back. Bill’s high school girlfriend, Liz, attends the funeral, and Jaimie falls asleep in her lap. As time goes on, Bill becomes depressed and neglects the house and his children, but he keeps Annie’s cell phone plugged in beside his bed.

The family tries to reenter everyday life, but the gaping hole left by Annie’s loss overwhelms them, especially when it comes to domestic duties. Ali tries to care for her younger brothers, but the fridge has no food, and the house is messy. Annemarie steps in to help stock the kitchen and hire a house cleaner, but Bill resents her help. Ant’s anger increases: He struggles at school, and Jaime regularly wets the bed. Ali’s friend Jenny is a great comfort to her, but Jenny’s parents are stringent, and Jenny behaves strangely sometimes. Bill buries himself in work and soon begins spending more time with Liz. Annemarie’s grief makes her want to misuse substances, and only the memory of Annie’s voice keeps her from relapsing. Green View hosts a memorial service and plants a tree in Annie’s honor, and the Browns realize just how much the residents loved Annie. Ali begins seeing Miss Cruz, the school counselor, who helps her to work through her grief.

Summer arrives, and Bill and Liz begin dating, which hurts Ali and Ant. Jenny invites Ali for a sleepover, but Ali must abruptly leave when Jenny’s dad comes home. Ali later realizes that Jenny’s father abuses her. Jenny and her family move away, and Ali never gets to say goodbye. Ant goes to sports camp but gets into trouble for fighting. When he returns home, he has an emotional breakdown and admits to Bill that he is struggling. In the fall, Ant begins seeing Miss Cruz for counseling. Bill begins spending more time with the children and helping around the house. However, Annemarie relapses and begins misusing substances again; she spirals into self-destructive behavior. When Tom discovers that she has been unfaithful, he leaves her. While attempting to obtain more pills to fuel her substance use disorder, Annemarie gets a blood test and realizes that she is pregnant. At Ali’s 14th birthday party, Bill’s mother, Dora, and Annemarie argue, and Bill declares that he is buying his family a new home.

On the first anniversary of Annie’s death, the entire family, minus Dora, gathers at Annie’s grave to honor her memory. Bill breaks up with Liz, who is too controlling, and asks Miss Cruz on a date. Ant’s attitude and schoolwork improve when he gets glasses, and Ali’s classmates elect her to the position of class president. Annemarie moves to Philadelphia but later returns with her newborn daughter, Hope, to help the Browns move into their new home. Bill remains behind in the old house and watches as Annie’s hope chest, which contains her wedding night lingerie and a love note to him, is loaded into the moving van.

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