Our Short History is one of those books that will break your heart six ways to Sunday. Karen is a single mother who adores her six-year-old son Jake, though he’s expecting a lot from her when he asks to meet his father–the man who dumped her when she told him she was pregnant. Yes, she’s bitter and she has so many reasons to be. But, Jake has a reason for wanting to get to know his father. You see, his mother is dying and although she’s already arranged a safe and secure future for him with her sister, he still wants to know his dad.
We know how much this hurts Karen because she tells us. She tells us everything. That’s the conceit of Our Short History. It is the book Karen writes for Jake to read when he’s old enough to understand, set aside for when he grows up, so he can learn more about his mother.
There is a secondary storyline, Karen is a political consultant and her last client is admirable in many ways, but unfaithful on occasion, seeking excitement with young women. His opponent is a woman with an appealing bootstrap immigrant story. Karen struggles with liking the opponent more than her client.
I cried throughout this book from beginning to end. I guess I am not in a place to be reading about someone dying of cancer so soon after my sister’s death. It’s funny, though, because many of my conversations with my sister while she was dying were focused on how her children and grandchildren would do after her death. She worried about them even though they are adults. She spent a lot of time preparing, wanting to get everything right. How much more, then, would a mother concern herself over taking care of her six-year-old son.
I liked that Karen was not too perfect, that she lost her cool, that she could be petty. There was a lot that was very realistic and natural, though sometimes it felt too natural. She would write advice, random and scattered notions that come to mind just the way they would in reality, but I am someone who prefers Klee and Kandinsky to Rembrandt and Courbet. I would like more art, less naturalism, in particular with the advice.
So this is a decent story and no one can expect to read a story about someone dying of cancer without some tears. However, this book is one that deliberately tries to wring out every possible tear it can. There’s a funeral eulogy for another character that is unusual, perhaps unusually honest, but really, it’s an exercise is pulling your heart strings. So often I felt pushed and shoved into grieving, it made me resentful. All that crying gave me a headache.
Perhaps it is just too soon after losing my sister to be reading such a mournful book, perhaps I cannot be fair. All I know is that while Our Short History was effective in plucking my emotions, playing them for all their worth, the book would have been better if she had focused more on making us think and less on making us cry.
Our Short History will be released March 21st. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.