Our Short History

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Can­cer is often used in fic­tion (and even non­fic­tion) as a gim­mick. Like the reunion of lovers long sep­a­rat­ed by a noble war, can­cer can be thrown like an emo­tion­al suck­er punch, orches­trat­ed as an easy puller of heart­strings — prob­a­bly because so many of us have per­son­al expe­ri­ence with it and know just how tru­ly ter­ri­fy­ing and painful the dis­ease can be.

But many books that involve can­cer man­age to rise above a soap-oper­at­ic exploita­tion of it. Our Short His­to­ry is one such tale. It’s a tear­jerk­er with­out being schmaltzy, a real­is­tic look at what some­one who is inde­pen­dent, head­strong, and fierce­ly pro­tec­tive of her young son might do when faced with her own mor­tal­i­ty too soon.

Karen Neu­lan­der is a forty-one-year-old polit­i­cal con­sul­tant, and as such she’s seen it all and takes no pris­on­ers. The con­cep­tion of her son was a sur­prise, and her boyfriend of six months, Dave, was not inter­est­ed in nor ready to take on that kind of respon­si­bil­i­ty. The years Karen con­se­quent­ly spends rais­ing Jacob on her own in Man­hat­tan, with­out the man who broke her heart, are both a chal­lenge and an unex­pect­ed gift. But when Jake is just a tod­dler, the doc­tors give her four years to live, and now it seems like even that trun­cat­ed time­line is going to be cut short. Her six-year-old son has a soft place to land in the lov­ing fam­i­ly of Karen’s sis­ter, Alli­son, which is some, but not enough, con­so­la­tion. Now, the boy has a rea­son­able request: to meet his dad. And, to com­pli­cate mat­ters fur­ther, Jacob’s dad is des­per­ate to meet him too.

Our Short His­to­ry is about a woman who’s used to call­ing the shots now being forced to nego­ti­ate: with her sis­ter, her busi­ness part­ner, her lech­er­ous politi­cian client, her doc­tors, her son, her son’s father. With the can­cer, and with what­ev­er caused her fate to twist in such a cru­el way. These are the kinds of nego­ti­a­tions any of us might make if we were forced to imag­ine the lit­tle world we’d worked so hard to build with­out us in it. Through hon­esty, swift pac­ing, con­vinc­ing details, and humor, this book unflinch­ing­ly and unsen­ti­men­tal­ly lays bare the last love- and pain-filled months of a can­cer victim’s life and the lives of those who love her.

Anna Katz is a free­lance writer, ghost­writer, and edi­tor. She is the author of Swim­ming Holes of Wash­ing­tonEasy Week­end Get­aways from Seat­tle, and the forth­com­ing The Art of Ramona Quim­by

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