Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
And this book KILLED me … in the best of ways! What a wonderful and devastating book! This is a novel about motherhood like none other I’ve read. The basic premise is that there is a woman who has a six year old son and she’s recently found out she is going to die. The father was not part of their lives but her son wants to meet him. As she’s facing putting all of her affairs in order and making sure her son is well taken care of in light of her impending death, she’s also trying to manage her own feelings about her illness and how to manage allowing her son’s father become a part of her son’s life. It sounds morose and sad … and it is and yet it isn’t. It’s a wonderfully balanced story that is funny and sad and poignant and heart breaking.
The mother in the story is a political consultant so I really loved hearing about her work and getting a lens into a political campaign and its ups and downs throughout the novel. Between that and learning about how she’s balanced being a working single mother, it’s amazing how well she has done on her own. Having ovarian cancer has made the balance of her home and work lives start to fall apart a bit.
This story is about dying and cancer and yet it’s really about so much more – being a parent, trying to say goodbye, how wonderful and horrible motherhood can be, and how to help your child be OK despite the sorrow that is coming their way. The story is told via a letter from the mother to her son which I think was a really effective way to frame the story.
This is one of those stories that made me laugh and cry. By the end, I was sobbing … for her, for her son, for her friends and family and for this little boy’s father. The circumstances weren’t’ easy for anyone in the book but I definitely understood why they did some of the things they did (even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them). I don’t think it was the most groundbreaking or unpredictable story I’ve read BUT it was well written and beautifully expressed. It made me think and feel and think some more. It reminded me to be appreciative of every moment I have with my own kids and to do my best to help them become who they are. It reminded me to not be so stubborn about taking help when it is offered. It reminded me that you can find the humorous in the sadness.
I felt like the characters were well drawn in this one – they were flawed and often made decisions that were difficult to watch as a reader. I enjoyed the fact that the characters were ‘allowed’ to feel pain and anger and sorrow. The good and the bad of life … without qualms or qualifiers. I couldn’t stop reading this one. It grabbed me and didn’t let go until the last word. I highly recommend it … especially if you’re a mother or want to better understand being a mother (the good, the bad and the ugly). This is a beautiful and heartbreaking book that just wow’d me!