Our Short History: Book summary and reviews of Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Our Short History

by Lauren Grodstein

Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein X
Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2017
    352 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

"In Our Short History, Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's bigger - and stronger - than before. This novel will leave you appreciating both the messiness of life and the immense depths of love." - Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

Karen Neulander, a successful New York political consultant, has always been fiercely protective of her son, Jacob, now six. She's had to be: when Jacob's father, Dave, found out Karen was pregnant and made it clear that fatherhood wasn't in his plans, Karen walked out of the relationship, never telling Dave her intention was to raise their child alone.

But now Jake is asking to meet his dad, and with good reason: Karen is dying. When she finally calls her ex, she's shocked to find Dave ecstatic about the son he never knew he had. First, he can't meet Jake fast enough, and then, he can't seem to leave him alone.

With just a few more months to live, Karen resists allowing Dave to insinuate himself into Jake's life. As she tries to play out her last days in the "right" way, Karen wrestles with the truth that the only thing she cannot bring herself to do for her son - let his father become a permanent part of his life - is the thing he needs from her the most. With heart-wrenching poignancy, unexpected wit, and mordant humor, Lauren Grodstein has created an unforgettable story about parenthood, sacrifice, and life itself.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Grodstein's (The Explanation for Everything) heartbreaking, character-driven story is told in the remarkable, believable voice of a courageous, sympathetic character. Recommended for readers of Jodi Picoult, Lisa Genova, or Sally Hepworth's The Mother's Promise." - Library Journal

"Grodstein (A Friend of the Family) deftly explores family relationships, but the device of Karen writing a book for her son is cumbersome and artificial. The power of the book is also undermined by the sentimental circumstances and predictable ending..." - Publishers Weekly

"Ultimately, this seems to be more an investigation into the stages of Karen's self-grieving and less an edifying guide for her son. A poignant and realistic portrait of the struggles with ovarian cancer that chafes a bit against its frame." - Kirkus

"Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's bigger - and stronger - than before. This novel will leave you appreciating both the messiness of life and the immense depths of love." - Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

"Funny and fast-paced and extraordinarily insightful on every page...Anyone lucky enough to get roughed-up by Grodstein's devastating, fearlessly honest, often hilarious, gorgeously written novel will exit it changed." - Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove

"Lauren Grodstein has written a book with such a complicated range of emotion that I can't quite understand how she does it. In highlighting the fragility and depth of the relationship between a parent and a child, Grodstein miraculously makes you love the complexity of this world even as it tears you apart. Our Short History is a novel that will reverberate in your heart long after you finish it." - Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

The information about Our Short History shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Andrea

Surprisingly Enjoyable
When I read the description of the book, I did not know if I even wanted to start it. This book is basically a mother's long goodbye to her son, with whom she had a short history. She is dying and is putting down her words of wisdom for her son to read when she is gone. This premise has been used by authors several times - do we really need another book like this?

Yes! There was something special about this book that immediately engaged me but I was never able to put my finger on it. Maybe it was my recent visit to Mercer Island that lent familiarity to the beginning of the story. Maybe it is that I am a cancer survivor, but if anything, having fought cancer made me reluctant to read it.

I may never know specifically why I loved this book, only that I did and I hope you enjoy it too.

Susan P. (Boston, MA)

The Short History of Us
The premise of the book is overwhelmingly sad (single mom of a young boy is dying) but it is compelling. As much as a young child can understand what will happen to his mom, it makes sense he wants to know who his father is and wants to meet him (probably would under any circumstances). This is the story of the mom struggling to do the best for her child and struggling even harder to make sure everyone knows SHE is the most important person in his life right now. All characters are believable and real. Interesting side story about the mom's profession of handling politicians' reputations. While not a book for those for whom it cuts too close to home, it is warm as well as heartbreaking and very readable.

Carol R. (Pembroke, MA)

Our Short History, Lauren Grodstein
It is difficult to write a review of Our Short History without giving away some of the story, so I'll begin by saying that being the single parent of a son, I went into the second chapter already in tears. Like Karen, I was never married to his father and unlike her, I never loved his father, Tom. We were young and eager to experience sex, unaware of the responsibilities that it involved. I decided to proceed with the pregnancy alone, which wasn't a popular choice in the late 1950's, I gave birth to a beautiful son.
As i read more of Karen and Jake's story, I realized that I had experienced many of the same feelings that I was reading on those pages - her intense need to be all that she could be to him and so certain that it would be enough.

Being that, tragically, Karen's life was uncertain as she was diagnosed with inoperable ovarian cancer, she decided to start writing notes to 6 yr. old Jake to be read when he was old enough and commenced writing down her feelings hoping that it would help him to know her better. She, valiantly, made that the focus of her life from then on. As sad as this book was and as hopeless as the situation was, the author, thankfully, was able to inject a bit of humor into it here and there.

If I could say I enjoyed this book, I can not, but I must say that is because reading it awakened in me so many familiar feelings and I related to the honesty with which is was written in that so much of it was difficult.

Eileen C. (New York, NY)

A family matter
With this novel, Grodstein has accomplished something that is nearly impossible—she has written a heart-breaking novel about love, family, acceptance, and what it means to live which is also laugh out loud funny. I liked the feistiness of the main character, Karen, but was torn about whether her actions were completely understandable. It would be a terrific pick for any book club.

Beth M. (New York, NY)

Keep tissues handy!
I loved this book. I read it in two days. Lauren Grodstein has done an amazing job of taking you on the awful journey of battling cancer, while trying to work and be a mom. This story is told through journal entries to Karen's six-year-old son. I was right there with her. The highs, the lows, the strength, weakness, impossible pain and great love. And all those decisions she was forced to face. One of my favorites parts was Karen's discussion with Bev. It was a beautiful scene of two moms breaking through barriers to share a common ground. Plus I loved the ending. It was perfect and fulfilling in a way that so few novels are these days. Read it. You will cry, laugh and be emotionally expanded by the end.

Milda S. (Warwick, NY)

Letting Go
Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein is a heart wrenching book written by a mother to her son. Karen Neulander, a political consultant, has a limited time to live having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She begins to write a memoir of her life, her son's life and advice for the future.
Karen's world revolves around her son Jake. After her death she has made legal provision for Jake to move from New York to Mercer Island to live with her sister Allison's family. In preparation for the future, she and her son are spending the summer on Mercer Island.
We learn that Karen cared deeply for Dave, her boy friend, and was shattered when he told her he did not want a child. She doesn't want Dave to know about Jake
and has kept him a secret. She is perplexed when Jake tells her that he wants to meet his Dad.
Karen's love for her son leads her to reconnect with Dave who has remarried and wants to meet Jake.
When father and son meet, they not only look alike but instantly connect.
Karen struggles with her animosity for Dave and her son's desire to see his Dad. She admits that Dave has changed and likes his wife but anger still boils over when she thinks of raising her son alone.
We only learn at the end whether Karen bends to Jake's and Dave's wishes or forbids their relationship to continue.

...18 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Lauren Grodstein Author Biography

Photo: Nina Subin

Lauren Grodstein is the author of the four novels including the bestselling A Friend of the Family, which was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, a New York Times Editor's Pick, and an Indie Next selection. She teaches creative writing at Rutgers University.

Author Interview
Link to Lauren Grodstein's Website

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  • The Explanation for Everything jacket
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