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Our Short History: A Novel by Lauren…

Our Short History: A Novel

by Lauren Grodstein

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This had a good premise , but I had a hard time getting into the story . The lead character is dying from cancer , yet unlikable . Her only redeeming quality is love of her son . The story is meant to be read by her son when he becomes an adult , but there's too much job stuff that he wouldn't care about and her protrayal of his father is a little too harsh . It would be easier to believe if the story was a public memoir or a straight fiction . As a private book for her son it just didn't work for me . It was a well written novel . ( )
  AquariusNat | Apr 21, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A Short Story is a book written by Karen, a single mother, to her son Jake. It is to be read when he is an adult and she is dead (dying from Ovarian Cancer Stage 4 with a poor prognosis). It is written as only a mother herself could write it, grieving for the milestones in her son's life that she will never live to see. My favorite Aunt, Aunt Louise, died of Ovarian Cancer. Although she was older than Karen at the time of her death, I felt she must have also grieved for the milestones she would miss in her grandchildren's lives.. I feel the author captured the essence of a terminal illness and a mothers reaction to it. This would be an excellent read for a Book Club. ( )
  DianneBottinelli | Apr 20, 2017 |
This is a heartbreaking tragedy of a novel that seems so real and natural that could be autobiographical (nope, I checked). Many novels and memoirs have been written by those dying and those living around the dying. However, this story of Karen, a campaign manager and single mother with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and a little son just starting first grade, is just singular in its depiction of the physical and psychic pain of knowing when you will be leaving the world without knowing what will happen to those you leave behind. The conflict (as if dying itself isn't enough!) is the entry of Jake's father, Dave, into their lives. The beauty is that there's no magic in it, just regret, anger, guilt, and a dollop of joy, for Jake. Karen also has a wonderful, wealthy sister and a beloved father with dementia, and a politician client along the lines of Anthony Weiner. Plenty going on here, and all is truly riveting and will remain imbedded in this reader's heart. ( )
  froxgirl | Apr 18, 2017 |
Karen Neulander is a successful political consultant in New York City. She is a single parent raising her six year old son, Jacob. Karen was diagnosed two years ago with stage IV ovarian cancer and is in remission after chemotherapy. Knowing her life span will be short, Karen starts to journal the history of her time shared with her son.

Jacob becomes curious about his father and wants to meet him after Karen shares some stories about their courtship. Karen became pregnant during her short relationship with David and she left without telling him that she had the baby. With her future in doubt, Karen reluctantly brings David and Jacob together. After all the years as a single mother, Karen is resistant and angry with the idea of sharing Jacob’s life.

This story is not about dying or cancer but about a mother living and coping with a difficult situation. It is about the joys of motherhood and the unconditional love shared with your children. Lauren Grodstein has crafted a beautiful story about a woman struggling to create the best choices for her son knowing her lifetime is limited. ( )
1 vote leopolds | Apr 7, 2017 |
Karen Neulander is a single mother with Stage 4 ovarian cancer with perhaps two years left to live. She writes a book for her six-year-old son Jacob, the book we are reading but which is intended for Jacob when he is older. At Jacob’s request, Karen contacts his biological father Dave whose desire not to have children led to Karen’s breakup with him. Karen has to deal with her mortality and her fears about what will happen to her son once she dies.

The structural framework of the novel is awkward. Karen writes the book because “It seems like the right way to tell you everything I want you to know.” She also clarifies that she will include “whatever wisdom I have, whatever lessons I’d pass on to you later . . . [and] my hope is that whenever you miss me or whenever you just want to know more about the person I was, you’ll be able to open this book and read these pages and remember me.” Would a mother really keep describing her extreme physical pain? Why would she include such details about her job as a political consultant and her major client at the moment? Though the book shows a growth/change in Karen’s thinking, why would she want to show her son the events that led to her epiphany? Since Karen writes a day-by-day account of events, a diary or journal format would be more appropriate.

Karen is not a likeable character. In her professional life, as she admits, she has no qualms about using “dirty tricks” to smear an opponent’s reputation and whitewash her client’s scandals. She describes her current client as “one of the least trustworthy people I’d ever met” yet she never considers dropping him. She is very self-centred as well though, given her circumstances, her selfishness is totally understandable. At times, her only redeeming quality is her love for her son. Were it not for her terminal cancer diagnosis, it would be difficult to have much sympathy for her.

Karen’s character change is convincing. Her fierce love for her son makes her capable of change and she has sufficient motivation to do so within the duration of the novel. Dave’s change is less realistic. He seems so very different from how Karen describes him. Not only is he handsome and wealthy with a supportive wife, he seems totally reformed. His lack of experience means he makes mistakes as a father, but he is so well-meaning and tries so hard to be a good father. He just seems too good to be true.

Of course, there is the spectre of unreliability in Karen’s narration. At the beginning of the book, she states, “I plan to be honest here. I plan to be excruciatingly, extraordinarily honest. I will not edit out the truth; I will not try to make myself look better than I really was. Than I really am.” But does she really portray Dave as he was or have her emotions negatively coloured her portrayal? At one point, she writes to Jacob that, “Your father was remembering what he wanted to remember in order to make himself feel better.” Is the same not true for her? And again, is it fitting that in her book to her son, Karen writes things like “no matter what else he turned out to be in life your father was also, indubitably, a moron” and “He was lying; your father was a liar”?

The novel examines parental love. What does it mean to really love a child? Unfortunately, Karen’s realization is expected so the ending is predictable; in fact, much of the book feels like waiting for Karen to finally see the light.

The book is written in a conversational, informal style which makes it easy to read. It is insightful in some respects but its unwieldy framework detracts from the whole.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Mar 21, 2017 |
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