This novel is posed as a book written by a mother with stage 4 ovarian cancer for her young son about her coming to terms with her mortality.
Karen Neulander is a successful political consultant and a happy single mother, raising her son, Jacob, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As the book begins, she and 6-year-old Jacob are spending the summer on Mercer Island, near Seattle. The hope is to get Jacob acclimated to life there with his aunt, uncle, and cousins, who will adopt him when Karen dies, in two to three years. At Jacob’s insistence, Karen contacts his biological father, Dave—a tough task, because Karen loved Dave, was heartbroken when his response to her unplanned pregnancy was to reiterate his lack of interest in kids, and therefore left him and never told him she’d kept the baby. To her dismay, Dave is now excited to learn of his son and hopes to be involved in his life. This brings Karen to an emotional breaking point as her health deteriorates and she attempts to act as though everything is still within her control. Karen is a character many will love—determined, flawed, loving, witty. But two things get in the way of Grodstein’s (The Explanation For Everything, 2013, etc.) natural storytelling abilities. First, the whole book is written in the past tense, but much of it takes place in the present time of the story, often making it tricky to know when an event is happening. Second, despite the title, Karen mostly describes to Jacob pieces of her past from before him or the agony she is going through as she writes. Ultimately, this seems to be more an investigation into the stages of Karen's self-grieving and less an edifying guide for her son.
A poignant and realistic portrait of the struggles with ovarian cancer that chafes a bit against its frame.