After reading Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed my Life, I knew I’d found a writer whose style was a rare treasure. So, after a couple commenters clued me into her most favorite novel, One True Thing, I checked it out to explore her fiction. And I’m happy to report that her fiction is just as fabulous as her prose (not always the case, you know).
I didn’t bother to read the back cover material, so I didn’t realize the book was about dying. I probably wouldn’t have chosen it for a summer read if I’d have known that. But I’m happy that I read it in ignorance because it was well worth it, even in the summertime.
Ellen Gulden is a successful career woman, living the single life in the city, when she learns that her mother is dying of cancer. Ellen’s mother has always been a Martha Stewart type, a bedrock of the home, capable and resourceful, always making the home a happy and warm place. And now, she needs Ellen to nurse her through her final days. And Ellen’s father, the tenured English professor, distances himself from the women and buries himself in his career. Ellen rebuilds her relationship with her mother, learns to focus on someone other than herself, and also struggles to gain acceptance from her cool and remote father.
So, while the book is technically about dying, it’s about a lot more. For me, it was mostly about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, about the generational gap, and about finally growing up. And for a book that marches onward toward death, it’s surprisingly joyful and light. But we have Ellen’s mother to thank for that.
I appreciate Quindlen’s thoughtful prose. She’s very reflective, something she draws from her nonfiction and journalistic training, no doubt, and her fiction is better for it. I also love the literature references woven into her book. Her love for books continually comes across in her writing, whether she’s explicitly referencing them or not.