Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

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.