Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The History of Great Things

The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062412676

The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane is a quasi-autobiographical novel that features a dual narrative between a mother and daughter. In this recommended novel a mother and daughter narrate each other's lives using real stories or various alternate stories. This would be a good choice for those who enjoy experimental literature.

Lois Crane is the mother; Betsy (Elizabeth) Crane is the daughter. This chronicles the strained and complicated relationship between mother and daughter. As one tells the other's story, the two also argue/editorialize what the writer of that part is doing or how it could be done better. Some stories the mother and daughter share are real, based on facts. Others involve speculation and made up episodes as they reinvent each other's lives to fill in blank spaces.

Lois Crane leaves her husband to pursue her career as an opera singer in NYC (as did Elizabeth Crane's mother, Lois). She left young Betsy for her father to raise until she divorced him and insisted that Betsy needed to be with her mother, a decision she regretted almost immediately. Betsy Crane stumbles after college, taking dead end jobs and becoming an alcoholic. She does insist that she always wanted to be a writer, and eventually sobers up and does so.

Crane does a good job in the narrative expression of her character's inner voices - this is a daughter and her deceased mother writing each other's life story, after all. She doesn't shy away from  the complications in a mother/daughter relationship, and deals with grief and forgiveness. I found the beginning of The History of Great Things interesting and it held my attention, however, that interest started to wane as the novel progressed. The voice of the mother and daughter are not always as distinct as their individual stories, therefore occasional back tracking is required to establish whose voice is whose during their commentaries/inner dialogue. The ending becomes even more confusing with several, alternate endings. While I appreciate the creativity and the experimentation this novel represents, in many ways it might have been better had Crane went with a memoir.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

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