Thursday, February 16, 2017

Our Short History

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: 3/21/17
advanced reading copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616206222

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein is a heart-breaking, insightful, emotional, compelling novel about a dying mother and her love for her son.

Karen Neulander is a successful New York political consultant who was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. She's doing everything she can to live as long as she possibly can, but she is dying. How can she leave her six-year-old son, Jake (Jacob), behind? While Karen makes plans for Jake to live with Allie, her sister, she is writing this book, the book we are reading, for Jake to read when he turns 18. She is trying to be as honest as she can about her feelings, what they are both experiencing, and how much, how fiercely she loves him.

When Jake asks to meet his father, Karen is unsure. Dave didn't want children and made that clear years ago when Karen told him she was pregnant. He even question if he was the father. Karen has had no contact with him since then and he has no idea he has a son. When she finally contacts him, she is shocked and annoyed to have him respond so positively. He is excited to meet Jake and wants them to meet as soon as possible. Karen is experiencing a plethora of emotions. Dave was the love of her life and he broke her heart. Now he wants to bond with her son, the son she has loved and raised without him. Dave's a smart lawyer too. Will he now try to take her son?

There is no question that this is a heart-breaking tear-jerker of a novel that will have you crying your eyes out more than once. Karen is brutally honest in the book she is writing for her son, although she is really writing it for herself. Grodstein perfectly captures a mother's fierce and protective love for her children and the sacrifices she is willing to make. She is trying to prepare for her death while knowing she will have to give Jake up. She's going to leave him behind - and how can that happen? She is fighting to live for Jake and then Dave waltzes in and effortlessly wants to be a part of Jake's life now. There are no good answers, only raw emotion, pain, and trying to make the best plans/choices.

The writing is excellent and captures Karen's struggles and pain with a startling amount of wit and humor. She is depicted as a real woman. We see her love and devotion for Jake along with her flaws and determination. Her death is not coming easy, and you can see Jake's struggles to understand and her sister's pain as she prepares to let her go. The only real drawback to the book is the framework that it is a letter to be read by her son in the future. Perhaps a diary format would have made more sense, but then perhaps we would have lost some of the emotional impact. In any event, I sobbed my way through this novel and enjoyed every moment of pain. 4.5

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

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