Our Short History

by Lauren Grodstein

Hardcover, 2017




Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2017.


"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"--

User reviews

LibraryThing member susan0316
It may sound strange to say that a book about a single mother dying of cancer is a fantastic book, but let me tell you that it really is. Our Short History is the first book that I've read by this author and I plan to go back and read her previous books after reading this one. Many thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book for a review. (All opinions are my own.)

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!
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Much of this book was hard to read - Karen is fighting so hard to live the life she has made for herself but the fact of her cancer and her unresolved love for the father of her child keep getting in the way. Coming to terms with death - with leaving behind the life that she loves - with acknowledging that life will go on for those she loves, particularly her son. Those are hard facts. I particularly liked how Ms. Grodstein explored the idea of love and what it means.… (more)
LibraryThing member mootzymom
This was a real tear jerker. Written in the form of letters to her son. Through every experience of letting her son go and how it feels and looks to her, you are wrapped in that unfathomable situation she is living.
LibraryThing member hubblegal
Karen Neulander has raised her beloved son, Jacob, on her own. Jacob’s father, Dave, made it very clear to her that he had no interest in having children and responded negatively when he found out she was pregnant. Jacob is now 6 years old and wants to meet his father. Karen gives in to his request because she has cancer and a limited time left with Jacob. She wants to end her life and motherhood in the best way that she can. But can she give Jacob what he wants the most – the father who hadn’t wanted him to come into the world? She attempts to write a book for Jacob to read when he turns 18 to help him understand and remember their history together as she prepares for his future without her.

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.
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LibraryThing member bethstraccia
Very relate-able story for many moms of young children.
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.
LibraryThing member bookczuk
I found this to be a powerful story of a single mother struggling to to right, to raise her young child, and to build memories for him as her own death from ovarian cancer draws nearer. The characters rang true for me, and Grodstein made it easy for the reader to glimpse the struggles of Karen, as she struggles to find the right path to point her son, when she's gone, and to provide him with support and memories he can take on his own life journey when his mother is no longer there. I normally steer clear of politics, but Karen's job as a consultant was fascinating. The elements of her work that were wound into the story really were fascinating, and illuminating about the business of politics. However, the true strength of this book was the business of parenting and of creating a family.

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.
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LibraryThing member wendy.james
This book is a mother's letter to her young son after she finds out she has ovarian cancer. It was very well written with clear descriptions of memorable times, words of advice, and gut-wrenching emotions as this young single mother comes to grips with her future. It is easy to empathize with her as she goes through the stages of grief and comes to accept that she has precious little time with her son, but does not want him to forget about her. I can't imagine going through this but I hope that I would do it as well as she did, with grace, humor, and love.… (more)
LibraryThing member karieh
“In the dark, from her hiding space under the pillow, Allie squeezed my hand, and the old platinum ring on my thumb, and we fell asleep pondering the condition of being mothers, which was, of course, the condition of helping the people you love the most in the world leave you.”

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.”
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LibraryThing member smallwonder56
Lauren Grodstein's novel, "Our Short History" is wonderful. Period.

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.
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LibraryThing member Loried
I can't believe how much I loved Our Short History, considering the subject matter. One of my best friends died of ovarian cancer leaving behind her teenage children. Despite that, I loved reading the book and flew through it. It is a beautifully written book, more about motherhood than anything else. I loved the characters, warts and all. I think it would be a wonderful choice for book discussion groups. There are many ethical issues which could inspire a good discussion. I highly recommend the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member eachurch
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member hope3957
I really enjoyed following the story to the end. It was hard to see that the mother was not giving the son time to get to know the Dad that he so longs to know. It was a little slow for me in the middle.
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.
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LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
If Karen Neulander weren't dying, she would be a hard character to like. The narrator of Lauren Grodstein's new novel, "Our Short History," is a political consultant whose specialties are playing dirty tricks on other candidates and whitewashing the scandals in which her own candidates are caught. She once disclosed that a candidate's 16-year-old daughter had had an abortion, although the candidate himself was pro-life. Meanwhile, she admits that her current candidate is "one of the least trustworthy people I'd ever met." But his politics are right.

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.
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LibraryThing member leopolds
Karen Neulander is a successful political consultant in New York City. She is a single parent raising her six year old son, Jacob. Karen was diagnosed two years ago with stage IV ovarian cancer and is in remission after chemotherapy. Knowing her life span will be short, Karen starts to journal the history of her time shared with her son.

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.
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LibraryThing member Nirmala.Chandrasiri
Karen Neulander is a single mother to Jacob, a six-year-old boy. When Karen was forty-one-years-old she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so with around two years left to live she decides to write a memoir named Our Short History for her son to read when he is old enough.

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!
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LibraryThing member blyng30
If you want to get wrapped up in an emotional ride that shows true heart and character on the pages then Our Short History: A Novel is the book for you. Grodstein does a remarkable job at expressing all of the emotions you would expect a mother to go through when faced with the reality that she will not outlive her only child. This books allows you to empathize not only with Karen, the main character and voice of the book but also with Jake, her 6 year old son, Dave, her ex and Jake's father and with Allison, Karen's sister who will be taking over the care of Jake once Karen has passed. Not only does this book display humor and sadness but it also embraces the crazy thoughts we have regarding others as we over think, over analyze and fret about what someone else might be doing or thinking. Not having children of my own, this book allowed me to look into Karen's world and relate to the feelings she was having as she is writing this novel to her son and as she realizes that despite the fact she is dying, life continues to move forward. Life stops for no one. Her job continues to go on, her sister and her family's lives continue with their own problems and her son continues to grow up. It was a page turner from the beginning as the story moved along and your heart goes out to all involved. I great story for anyone facing an illness, early death or for the loved ones around them, or just a fantastic read for anyone wanting to relate to real emotions.… (more)
LibraryThing member koalamom
Karen has cancer and a short time to live. She also has a six year old son who now wants to meet the father he's never met. Karen is reluctant but loves her son and wants to give him this wish. What happens leads us through the book. Can there be a good ending?
LibraryThing member froxgirl
This is a heartbreaking tragedy of a novel that seems so real and natural that could be autobiographical (nope, I checked). Many novels and memoirs have been written by those dying and those living around the dying. However, this story of Karen, a campaign manager and single mother with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and a little son just starting first grade, is just singular in its depiction of the physical and psychic pain of knowing when you will be leaving the world without knowing what will happen to those you leave behind. The conflict (as if dying itself isn't enough!) is the entry of Jake's father, Dave, into their lives. The beauty is that there's no magic in it, just regret, anger, guilt, and a dollop of joy, for Jake. Karen also has a wonderful, wealthy sister and a beloved father with dementia, and a politician client along the lines of Anthony Weiner. Plenty going on here, and all is truly riveting and will remain imbedded in this reader's heart.… (more)
LibraryThing member AquariusNat
This had a good premise , but I had a hard time getting into the story . The lead character is dying from cancer , yet unlikable . Her only redeeming quality is love of her son . The story is meant to be read by her son when he becomes an adult , but there's too much job stuff that he wouldn't care about and her protrayal of his father is a little too harsh . It would be easier to believe if the story was a public memoir or a straight fiction . As a private book for her son it just didn't work for me . It was a well written novel .… (more)
LibraryThing member indygo88
Karen, in her early 40's and a single mother, has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has only a few brief years to live. She is fiercely protective of her 6-year-old son Jake, and Karen begins to make arrangements for him to live with her sister and family after her death. Jake, the result of a somewhat brief relationship between Karen and her then-lover Dave, has never known his father, since Dave made it clear to Karen at the time that he wasn't interested in becoming a father and assumed that Karen had aborted the baby after the end of their relationship. Now, as Karen tries to come to terms with her impending death, Jake begins to ask questions about his father and requests to meet him. Though reluctant, Karen contacts Dave and contrary to her expectations, Dave is delighted to discover that he has a son. But this just adds to Karen's fear, and she becomes even more protective of her son.

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.
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LibraryThing member DianneBottinelli
A Short Story is a book written by Karen, a single mother, to her son Jake. It is to be read when he is an adult and she is dead (dying from Ovarian Cancer Stage 4 with a poor prognosis). It is written as only a mother herself could write it, grieving for the milestones in her son's life that she will never live to see. My favorite Aunt, Aunt Louise, died of Ovarian Cancer. Although she was older than Karen at the time of her death, I felt she must have also grieved for the milestones she would miss in her grandchildren's lives.. I feel the author captured the essence of a terminal illness and a mothers reaction to it. This would be an excellent read for a Book Club.… (more)
LibraryThing member Susan.Macura
Karen is a successful political consultant, a career that has provided her with a good living and the ability to set her own hours, allowing her to be a successful single parent as well. However, despite all of her efforts, her 6-year-old son wants to meet his father, who was under a misunderstanding that Karen had aborted the pregnancy after he expressed no desire to be a father. However, when contacted not only does Dave want to meet his son Jake, but he wants to become a major part of his life. Further complicating this situation is the fact that Karen has incurable cancer, so she must make peace with her desire to keep her child all to herself and balance this desire with Jake’s desire to have a relationship with his father. While both Karen and Dave made mistakes, it is up to both of them to be the adults so Jake has a secure childhood. It was a compelling story.… (more)
LibraryThing member MsNick
Imagine that you’re in your late thirties and dating the love of your life when you learn that you’re pregnant. Imagine that your paramour panics as he’s never wanted to raise a family. You leave him and never look back, right? Wrong. You’re now a single mother in your early forties, you have stage four cancer, and your son asks to meet his father. This is where we find Karen, who is in the process of documenting her thoughts and recollections for her son, Jacob (Jake) to read as an adult. The author deftly takes us along Karen’s emotional journey as she faces meeting her former lover once again, along with dealing with her impending death.… (more)
LibraryThing member PhDinHorribleness
This story is told in the form of a mother writing a book for her 6-year-old son to read when he's older, after she's dead. Because, at age 43, she is dying of ovarian cancer. She is very honest about her life and career, as well as her feelings about death and her love for her son. When her son convinces her to call his father - who he's never met - things change drastically. She does not want this man to be a part of her son's life, but this is outside of her control. A very enjoyable read.… (more)
LibraryThing member dablackwood
The sad reality of this novel is that Karen, the narrator, is going to die of cervical cancer. She has a son, Jacob, who wants to meet his father, Dave. Dave and Karen never married and he did not want children. When Karen discovered she was pregnant, the relationship ended. Jacob (Jake) is six when he finally meets his father and it is pretty much love at first sight. Lauren Grodstein writes beautifully about Karen's fears for Jacob's future and her pain at having to leave him. My only criticism of this book is the framework of the book. It is written as a letter to Jake. I didn't care for that device to get at the story. But that aside, this was an excellent book.… (more)



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