"Karen Neulander has always been fiercely protective of her son, Jacob, now six. 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. 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"--
Karen is a successful political consultant in NYC with a young son when she finds out that she has stage IV ovarian cancer. When she got pregnant with her son, the father broke up with her and she never told him about the baby. When her son is six, he asks to meet his father. Up until this time, they had been a family of two and Karen is very apprehensive about bringing his father into her son's life. However father and son bond very quickly and despite Karen's anger over including the dad into her son's life, she realizes that time is running out for her. Will she be able to learn to share her son with his father or will she continue to try to keep them apart?
The novel is written as a book that Karen is writing for her son to read when he is grown to explain the life that they had together. I thought she was an extremely fantastic character and the anger that she held against her ex boyfriend, her cancer and life in general is definitely justified. This is a fantastic book -- warning - keep Kleenex close at hand!
The entire book is a mother’s letter to her son. I haven’t cried this much over a book in quite a long time. This story just wrapped itself around my heart. The book is very readable and engrossing, witty and compelling. The author has fully brought the character of Karen Neulander to life. I rejoiced with her, I suffered with her and I mourned for her upcoming loss with her. It’s very true to life and painfully honest and not sappy in the least. Within the main story is also an insightful look into Karen’s job as a political consultant and the moral crisis she goes through with her last client.
Highly recommended. This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Charts the emotions of a mom of a 6 year old boy; the
mom is in the final stages of terminal cancer and must
make heart wrenching decisions about how much of his
past to divulge and plan
for his future without her.
Thank you to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program and to the fine folks at Algonquin (who have yet to disappoint me in any book I've read that they've published) for sending this copy of the book to me.
Karen, the main character of “Our Short Story” – is a mother. Her son, Jake, will not have the chance to grow up and leave her, because she is dying. She must leave him, and she writes her story, and their too short story, in order to give him a chance to know her once she is gone. This is a heartbreaking book, about the intensity of a mother’s love, and about a woman trying to do everything she can to prepare to leave the world and everything she holds dear.
She has Stage 4 ovarian cancer, and an undefined but short time to live. A single mother, she is doing all she can to ready her son for a new life without her while fiercely trying to wring out every last experience and memory of her own life. She has planned for Jake to live with her sister Allie, in Seattle…until Jake’s father enters the picture again and she is forced to deal with the unexpected feelings not only of hers, but of Jake’s and the man who never knew he was a father.
There is so much pain in this story – some physical, mostly emotional. As a mother myself, it was impossible for me to not imagine myself in Karen’s place – desperate to stay with a child you love more than life itself while having to plan for your child’s life after you’re gone. The reader experiences Karen’s frustration, exhaustion, denial and final the start to her release & acceptance.
The story starts out about her but evolves into the story of Jake – where his life will lead and how he will grow up with the people Karen has gathered to help raise him. What Jake’s memories and stories will be about the woman who bore him and raised him in the time she had on Earth.
She has done her best for him, and realizes she needs to trust in the other people who love him. “I hope that wherever and whenever this book finds you, it finds you as happy as you were at that moment – as the two of us were, the three of us, even. Eating pizza around the kitchen table, no big deal, a Thursday night. Remember that we loved each other. And that once upon a time it was the two of us, and we were our own magical family.”
As Karen starts to let go, the reader must as well – not with the ending anyone wanted, but with an ending where it belongs – at peace. In the end, it is not about the life that Karen has given her son, but what his life has given her. “And thank you for being eternal, so that when the time comes – whenever it comes – I will find the strength to close my eyes.”
I'll save you another synopsis of the book. In short, the main character is a working mother, dying of cancer who has a young son. It is moving and deeply engaging, well written and very satisfying. When I love a book, I usually want to have the main character as my friend--this one was no exception. The characters are very real and have incredible depth, full of happiness and snarky comments and love.
I wish I could thank Lauren Grodstein for introducing me to such a wonderful character and for letting me take the journey along with her. I'm going to write a book for my own son, but it won't be as good as this one.
I enjoyed getting the story of her life in the political world. It was interesting as Karen struggled to find the path for her son and learned about herself in the end.
I enjoyed the story and was surprised with the book because it is not something I would normally enjoy.
Now Karen has terminal cancer and is given maybe just a couple of years to live. She is the single mother of Jake, a six-year-old boy, and this novel takes the form of her statement of love, advice and family history to be read by Jake when he turns 18.
The complication for Karen, as if her life hadn't become complicated enough, is that Jake wants to meet his father. Dave, the love of Karen's life, had disappeared after she had become pregnant. Now he is a New York lawyer and married. When she contacts him, she is shocked by how much Jake likes him and by how much Dave's attitude toward children has changed. Now he wants to become involved in Jake's life, and this frightens Karen, who had already made plans for Jake to be cared for by her sister in the state of Washington. Will Dave, a lawyer after all, try to gain custody of his son? Can she, a dying woman, do anything to prevent that? And, considering the growing relationship between father and son, should she even try?
Karen's many imperfections add depth to Grodstein's novel that wouldn't exist if the protagonist were a goody-goody woman. Even Jake is not a perfect little boy. He is clearly spoiled, demanding and given to tantrums to get his way. As for Dave, he buys Jake too many presents and allows him to watch the wrong king of movie, yet he still comes across as too good to be true -- handsome, wealthy, well-meaning and totally reformed in his attitudes toward family. His near-perfection makes Karen's dilemma all the more difficult. She let this guy get away, now she can't keep him away.
A key passage in the novel comes when Karen goes to meet her candidate's political foe, a woman who has herself struggled with cancer. She discovers that the person she is trying to destroy is a wonderful woman, much more decent than her own candidate or, for that matter, Karen herself. This meeting, more than anything, changes Karen and guides her in the choices she must make.
Jacob becomes curious about his father and wants to meet him after Karen shares some stories about their courtship. Karen became pregnant during her short relationship with David and she left without telling him that she had the baby. With her future in doubt, Karen reluctantly brings David and Jacob together. After all the years as a single mother, Karen is resistant and angry with the idea of sharing Jacob’s life.
This story is not about dying or cancer but about a mother living and coping with a difficult situation. It is about the joys of motherhood and the unconditional love shared with your children. Lauren Grodstein has crafted a beautiful story about a woman struggling to create the best choices for her son knowing her lifetime is limited.
From the beginning, Karen comes off as a protective parent. She has made preparations for Jacob to be taken care by Allison, her sister when she is gone, lets Jacob hang out with Allison’s family so the transition would go smoothly for him when the time comes. But Karen who puts so much care and thought into the well-being of her son becomes a different person when Jacob wants to meet his dad – Dave, the man who kicked her out of the house when she told him she is pregnant with his child. So the novel relates the story of Karen trying to do right by her son.
Our Short History is supposed to be a tear-jerker, yet it failed to bring me to tears. It was mostly because I did not find Karen to be a likable character – she only scored sympathy points from me because she had cancer!
In Our Short History, I did not see why Karen wanted her son to know all the gory details about her career, as she did not paint the best picture of herself in her profession! As a political consultant in New York, Karen had once smeared the campaign of one of her client’s outspoken pro-life Republican opponents by leaking to media that his teenage daughter had had an abortion! Even though I was repulsed by what she did, I tried my best not to hold it against her – it was very early on in the novel, and I realize political consultants sometimes have to be ruthless in order to succeed. But how Karen went ahead and leaked a story about an extramarital affair of her lecherous candidate, possibly to earn a few bucks to pay her insurance by putting out the fire she created herself, did not sit right with me although she regretted it later.
When it came to Dave, I was not particularly impressed by the way Karen handled it either. Dave was a jerk to Karen, there is no arguing that. But when Dave tried to step up his game by forming an actual relationship with their son after he was told of Jacob’s existence, Karen became jealous. She tried to keep Jacob away from Dave for the most part of the novel against Jacob’s wishes, hanging on to the idea that Dave is a nasty person because he broke her heart years ago, without even considering the possibility that Dave could turn out to be a decent parent. I felt that was selfish of Karen. 😐
When I picked Our Short History, I thought I would love the book. However, the story did not move me as I expected, and when it ended I felt bad about not liking a woman with cancer!
This novel is told from Karen's point of view, as a sort of memoir written to Jake for him to keep & treasure after she has gone. While it had the potential to be a tear-jerker, I think it failed in that respect. While I can grant some sympathy to a main character who is dying, I found Karen to be too self-absorbed, selfish, and whiny, and I just didn't like her. The memoir-style presentation of this story, as a book written to her son, also didn't really work for me, as much of the time Karen was complaining about subject matter that really shouldn't have been relevant to her son, or at least not something that he would want to save & cherish. Those aspects, combined with the reader of this audiobook, whose voice I found not necessarily appealing for a story such as this, just left me with a feeling of disappointment in this novel.