Our Short History


I had high hopes for this book, and while it’s slightly better than just ‘meh’, it wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be (read the synopsis here). I was intrigued from the first pages, but as the story moved along, I found myself less and less interested. There were too many references to Karen’s work life and not enough life lessons, wisdom, and love for her son. I don’t know – maybe that would have made an incredibly depressing story, but it’s exactly what I was hoping for.

I picked this book up from the library and really didn’t know much about it. I recognized the cover from the #bookstagram community, so I threw it in my pile and checked it out. Imagine my surprise when I realize that this is a book – I prefer the term “love letter” – from a woman to her six-year-old son. She has Stage IV ovarian cancer and was basically given five years to live. After just finishing, The Bright Hour: A Memoir on Living and Dying by Nina Riggs, literally right before picking this one up, the synchronicity was just so coincidental. (You can read my review of Rigg’s book here.) I wouldn’t recommend reading these back to back. To be fair, had I not just finished the The Bright Hour – which I LOVED – I may have even liked this book more. But it just didn’t hold a candle to IRL version of the same story.

What’s great about this book is the way Lauren Grodstein brings a horrifying reality to light and makes her readers empathize with the situation. Karen is a single mom raising her son, Jake, in NYC while juggling an intense job as a campaign manager for a local councilman. Her closest relatives are her sister and brother-in-law who live clear across the country on Mercer Island, near Seattle. My heart broke for Karen as I imagined the stress she felt trying to work while undergoing chemotherapy and surgeries and generally just feeling badly. I felt so much compassion for her thinking about how hard it must be to know you would, sooner than later, be leaving your young child behind.

Luckily, or conveniently (however you want to look at it), Jake’s dad is introduced. While he wasn’t ready to have a family when Karen became pregnant, he is now happily married and would love to have a child, yet he and his wife struggle with infertility. The relationship between Jake and Dave blossoms quickly, tying up a major loose end to the overall story.

By the end of the book, it felt like Grodstein just needed to wrap the story up. I would have loved some more relationship development between Dave and Jake; Dave, his wife, and Jake; even all four of them as they navigate Karen’s illness and the repercussions of her eventual death. As a reader, I felt like I was left hanging. I didn’t expect Karen to miraculously recover, but I also didn’t think the story would just end with a reconciliation with Dave. I wanted a better wrap-up.

The potential was there for this book to be amazingly heart-touching, but as it went on, it failed to retain my attention. Have you read this one yet? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!

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