Thursday, September 6, 2018

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen
Published August 1995 by Demco Media
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
A young woman is in jail, accused of the mercy killing of her mother. She says she didn't do it; she thinks she knows who did. When Ellen Gulden first learns that her mother, Kate, has cancer, the disease is already far advanced. Her father insists that Ellen quit her job and come home to take care of Kate. Ellen has always been the special child in the family, the high achiever, her father's intellectual match, and the person caught in the middle between her parents. She has seen herself as very different from her mother, the talented homemaker, the family's popular center, its one true thing. Yet as Ellen begins to spend her days with Kate, she learns many surprising things, not only about herself but also about her mother, a woman she thought she knew so well. The life choices Ellen and her mother have made are reassessed in this deeply moving novel, a work of fiction that is richly imbued with profound insights into the complex lives of women and men.

My Thoughts:
Quindlen was an accomplished columnist when she became an author. It was a given that she could write, but writing an novel is an entirely different beast. I've never read Quindlen's first novel so I can't judge how she made the initial transition. One True Thing is her second attempt. Although it has it's flaws, I fell into this story and into the relationship between Ellen and Kate.

There are stereotypes galore. We could have done without some of them - the boyfriend who turns out to be an ass (well, we knew that all along, honestly) could have been written out of the book entirely and no one would have missed him. But others are essential to the story - there must be a head and there must be a heart.

Kate is the heart, George the head. Ellen has spent her life trying to make her father proud, ignoring the worth of her mother. But when Kate is diagnosed with cancer and George refuses to take a sabbatical to care for her, Ellen is forced to look at both of them, and their relationship,  in a new light.
"No one knows what goes on inside a marriage. I read that once; the aphorism ended 'except for the two people who are in it.' But I suspect that even that is not the truth, that even two people married to each other for many many years may have only passing similarities in their perceptions and their expectations. . . . But I know from experience that those least capable of truly assessing any marriage are the children who come out of it. We style them as we need them, to excuse our faults, to insulate ourselves from our own expendability or indispensability."
While there were places in this book that I felt dragged, there was far more that pulled my heart into the story and there are so many of what I call "book gems," passages that really spoke to me.
"I realized that, while I would never be my mother nor have her life, the lesson she had left was that it was possible to love and care for a man and still have at your core a strength so great that you never even needed to put it on display.”
I grew up very much wanting to have the life my mother had. Because of her, I believed it was possible to have it all. She is an educated woman who worked at a job she enjoyed and managed to keep our home and family afloat. It was hard for me to relate to a young woman who so openly looks down on her mother and prefers a man who makes her work so hard to earn his praise. And knowing from the opening sentence of the book that Ellen has been arrested for murdering her mother seemed to make it clear that things were not going to get better.

But this is Quindlen and Quindlen always writes with heart. She's also written one of the most devastating descriptions of a person dying and what it feels like to watch someone you love being consumed by cancer. I've done that. Twice. This book had me reliving those months, those last hours. It was so painful, so true.

The fallout after Kate's death, as Ellen is accused of murdering her, is like another story. Quindlen has something to say about the way our justice system works and the way the media hover like vultures over the last hot story. I liked the rest of the book, the way Ellen came to grips with her new feelings for both of her parents and the way that she had come to embrace the lessons her mother had taught her.

1 comment:

  1. I keep meaning to read more Quindlen books and this one has been on my list for years. I loved EVERY LAST ONE. However, the subject matter is a little tough - the cancer thing. My folks both had Alzheimer's/dementia and so somehow I'm drawn to books about that. My sister had lung cancer and I am not drawn to those books. Not sure why, but probably the way the last days play out. I'll consider this one, but honestly, I'll likely pass. Maybe one day I'll be ready for books with this subject. And then again, maybe not. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!