Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book review: One True Thing

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

So, E says all I ever read are cancer books and Holocaust books.  Lately that seems to be an accurate statement.  This one falls into the first category.

One True Thing was my first download now that I've signed up with Audible again.  Having finished every audiobook on our computer, I was in need of something new to listen to while I run.  I chose this because after Anna Karenina my ears have been craving simplicity.  I liked Living Out Loud, a book of Quindlen's nonfiction, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life, one of her commencement speeches turned books.  I enjoyed her style of writing nonfiction so I picked the novel with the best reviews on Amazon and dove in.

The book is about a thirty-something writer who leaves New York to take care of her mother who is dying of cancer.  She has to redefine her view of herself and come to terms with her assumptions about her parents and family.  The book is written as a flashback.  In the opening chapters of the novel we learn that the main character has been arrested for ending her mother's life.

As you can imagine, the entire thing is heavy.  Probably heavier than I anticipated, though I knew what it was going to be about.  I found myself making comparisons to my favorite novel, Barbara Kingolver's Animal Dreams.  Though that novel deals with a dying parent, the tenor of the story is entirely different.  Where Animal Dreams is beautiful and captivating while dealing with something incredibly sad, this book was just sad.  I felt it dragging me down with it as I read.  This was a hard one for 4:30 AM on the treadmill.

Now I have to say that for what it discusses it is not a bad book.  It's probably spot-on as far as accuracy.  I just can't say I enjoyed reading it--even though I'm not sure I was supposed to.  It was like looking at a photograph of someone with an illness.  Realistic.  Disturbing.  Memorable.  But not beautiful.  I'm not sure I can accurately convey what I feel about it.  I tend to like books with more to unravel when it comes to prose.  This was straightforward, clear, but I didn't find much I could savor.

Some books need to be written.  I could tell that this was one of those books.  It seems like writing it must have been cathartic for Quindlen, who lost her own mother when she was young.  I'm not sure I can recommend it to anyone for pleasure reading, though.

My recommendation:  A decent story.  If you go there, just make sure you know what you're getting into.

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