One Minus One: Book summary and reviews of One Minus One by Ruth Doan MacDougall

One Minus One

Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries

By Ruth Doan MacDougall

One Minus One
  • Readers' rating:

  • Published in USA  Feb 2013,
    184 pages.

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Book Summary

The year is 1969, a time of turmoil for the United States—and for thirty-year-old Emily Bean, who, following her devastating divorce, leaves her home in the New Hampshire mountains to work as a teacher in the state's coastal region.

Still in love with her ex-husband, David, Emily struggles to adjust to single life. Women's liberation and the freewheeling sixties had only been on the perimeter of her married life, so even walking into a restaurant alone makes insecure Emily self-conscious.

The men in town are quick to notice an available and attractive young woman with legs made for miniskirts. Emily falls into relationships with two men, one of whom could be her way back to the safe life that she lost.

But in this portrait of a woman on the brink of self-realization, Emily must learn whether or not she can truly recapture the past.

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Elizabeth G. (Cincinnati, OH)
A View of a Time
One Minus One is a novel examining a woman's life at a very specific time in a very specific place at a very specific time in U.S. history. I couldn't help but think of the tv show Mad Men because of the author's attention to detail and the fact that it is set in the late 60s. It is strikingly first-person narrative. Everything is seen through the eyes of this woman and through the prism of her previous life. She is in a kind of awakening, trying to measure how far she can or wants to go, wondering who she really is at this point. It's not great literature, but it is an interesting novel for a look at women's lives at that time and the very sheltered lives in small towns on the upper East Coast.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Judy W. (Tucker, GA)
One Minus One
Nancy Pearl, whom I greatly admire, is the presenter of this book; otherwise, I would not have completed reading One Minus One. Nancy states that there are 4 "doorways" to a work of fiction. The author chose the doorway of character. Emily is a newly divorced woman, forced to return to the classroom as a high school teacher. She is devastated by the divorce and makes many unfortunate decisions. She lets her heart (emotions), not her head (sensibility), determine her fate in this novel. The writing is exceptional, but I didn't enjoy the story. I would not recommend this title.

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Susan B. (Coventry, RI)
One Minus One
I was prepared to like this book, based on the previews of it. I, too, grew up in the same era as the main character, Emily and expected to be able to feel a sense of affinity for her and the time that the book represented. By the time I was half-way through the book, I began to feel bored with her. She seemed to be obsessed with her ex-husband, who had divorced her. She becomes a one- dimensional figure. Everything that happens to her revives her memories of David and what they once shared. There was really no plot; the book was mainly a character study of Emily and she was not an interesting person. I was disappointed that the book was not as exciting as I was led to expect.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Betsy R. (Gig Harbor, WA)
One on One
Because I keep a list of books I have read since the 1970s, I realized that I had read this and other books by Ruth Doan MacDougall back then and loved them. And I still liked this one today. Yes it is a little dated, but that is one of the things I liked about it - the setting and time period. I found the character Emily to be sympathetic in her search for her own life after being displaced from the life she thought she would have. Her passivity is a little irritating, but as the book went on, she became more and more ready to stand up for herself. I have already ordered some other books (out of print) by this author.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Rebecca J. (Knoxville, TN)
One minus one
One minus one was a beautiful character study of a girl in the 60's who is surprisingly divorced by her husband, the only partner she has ever known. I only gave the book 4 stars because it definitely is not for everyone because of the lack of plot. However, having once been a girl of the 60's, I could somewhat identify with Emily although I did find her rather whiney. I greatly enjoyed her new love interest and her roommates, both single girls in their 30's. One minus one is definitely a book where the reader wants to know what happens to the characters after the book is over.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Monica W. (Port Jefferson, NY)
One Minus One
This book is not my usual fare at all, but since Nancy Pearl said it was good and she is one of my library heroes and I gave it a try.

The story is about a 30 year old woman Emily who finds herself divorced and confronting life on her own. She has to learn how to do everything alone, something with which she is not familiar. with. Like many women who created their identity based on their relationship with a man she falls into a relationship rather quickly with Warren, a radio host. Their relationship soon becomes its own predictable pattern. Emily is going to school to be a teacher because that's what her mother did and while she wanted to be a writer in the past when she was married that desire seems to have left her. Emily's thoughts often go back in time to happier time with her husband David, he may be gone, but he is present in her own mind. Over the holidays Emily gets possession of her grandmother's diaries and starts reading. Honestly her grandmother's life is more interesting than Emily's (which on some level she may realize). Somewhere along the line her relationship with Warren unravels and Emily begins a new chapter moving in her with school friends Kaykay and Grace. She also briefly acts on her attraction to Cliff who is the department head at the college. Over time Cliff wears her down and she begins yet another relationship. While out with Cliff she meets David and his pregnant wife and finally breaks down about the divorce. No matter how far she goes or who she ends up with Emily is still haunted by David. Their relationship was such a huge part of her life trying to get past it is nearly impossible.

While the story is set in 1969, it can be easy to forget unless you really pay attention to all the small details. There is something universal about the story. I think most people know someone like Emily, the girl who defines her whole existence based on her relationship with a guy and when it ends- well on to the next one. Part of me does want to shake her and say maybe there is a reason why things didn't work out. Its 1969, not 1869. You've moved on, moved out, gotten a job, now its time to take some me time and figure out what you want. In a way its not really fair to the guys she dates. They are really just rebounds and I feel bad for Cliff who has true feelings for her. Here's hoping one day Emily finally moves on!

...16 more reader reviews

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About the Author
Ruth Doan MacDougall, whose father wrote novels and hiking books, began writing stories of her own at the age of six in her hometown of Laconia, New Hampshire. She never stopped. Today, she is the respected author of deeply felt novels about the lives of women, including The Cheerleader, her acclaimed coming-of-age bestseller about a teenage girl in the 1950s, which launched her acclaimed Snowy Series. A recipient of the New Hampshire Writers' Project's Lifetime Achievement Award, MacDougall continues to write novels and to update her late father's hiking books. She is happy to say that she is still madly in love with her husband of fifty-five years and explains that her novel One Minus One came about when she tried to imagine what her life would be like if they ever divorced. She lives in Center Sandwich, New Hampshire.
Visit her at ruthdoanmacdougall.com


About Nancy Pearl
Nancy Pearl is a librarian and lifelong reader. She regularly comments on books on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her books include 2003's Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason, 2005's More Book Lust: 1,000 New Reading Recommendations for Every Mood, Moment and Reason; Book Crush: For Kids and Teens: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest, published in 2007, and 2010's Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers. Among her many awards and honors are the 2011 Librarian of the Year Award from Library Journal; the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association; the 2010 Margaret E. Monroe Award from the Reference and Users Services Association of the American Library Association; and the 2004 Women's National Book Association Award, given to "a living American woman who …has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation."

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