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One True Thing: A Novel [Paperback]

Anna Quindlen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 8 2006
A mother.  A daughter.  A shattering choice.

From Anna Quindlen, bestselling author of Black and Blue, comes a novel of life, love and everyday acts of mercy.

"A triumph."
--San Francisco Chronicle

From the Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

One True Thing is a film starring Meryl Streep as the cancer-stricken homemaker mother, Renee Zellweger as the daughter who quits her top-dog job to care for her, and William Hurt as the chilly professor who lets the women in the family do the heavy emotional lifting dying requires. But the real star of the project remains former New York Times everyday-life columnist Anna Quindlen, who quit her top-dog job to write novels (and who took time off from college to nurse her own dying mother).

Quindlen hit a nerve with One True Thing, which captures an experience seldom dealt with in popular culture. (One exception: the sensitive 1996 film with Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio of the play Marvin's Room.) Though the heroine of One True Thing, Ellen Gulden, is a golden girl with two brothers who'll lose her career the instant she steps off the fast track, society concurs with her dad, who says, "It seems to me another woman is what's wanted here."

The book is a mother-daughter tale that should please fans of, say, The Joy Luck Club. It's not flashy, but it has a deep feel for the way children often discover, just before it's too late, who their parents really are. "Our parents are never people to us," Ellen writes, "they're always character traits.... There is only room in the lifeboat of your life for one, and you always choose yourself, and turn your parents into whatever it takes to keep you afloat." The mercy-killing subplot isn't gripping, but the palpable sense of deepening family intimacy certainly is. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Quindlen (Object Lessons) again examines delicate family dynamics with this resonating tale of a matriarch's illness and the tempest of emotion that swirls around her deterioration and death. Manhattan psychiatrist Ellen Gulden recalls the dark time nearly a decade ago when she was accused of administering a fatal dosage of morphine to her mother, who was suffering with terminal cancer. Back then, intelligent, overachieving Ellen was forced by her domineering father to abandon a promising magazine career and assume the role of companion and caretaker at her family's suburban home. While tending her failing mother, Ellen discovered some harsh truths about herself, her parents and the relationships they had developed over the years. Following Kate Gulden's autopsy, circumstantial evidence-as far-reaching as a high-school essay she wrote championing euthanasia-accumulated against Ellen, and she was arrested. Now cleared of charges and estranged from her father, Ellen speculates on what really happened during the final hours of Kate's life. Quindlen's talent for weaving a believable reality from her characters' complex sentiments shines here, and her portraits are full-bodied and carefully drawn. Unfortunately, Ellen's digressions are often too broad in scope, incorporating peripheral characters and aiming to discuss several themes (i.e., friendship, sex, the cost of ambition) at once; these introspections occasionally slow the narrative, especially in the novel's second half. These stylistic points aside, Quindlen's story sustains an emotional momentum, and she addresses difficult issues with compassion.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great one Feb. 20 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Anna Quindlen is such a wonderful writer. I loved this novel just as much, if not more than all her others that I have read! Some how her words stir so much emotion. I always pass her works on to friends.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ITS ABOUT LONELINESS Jan. 22 2004
By John
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is about loneliness, and the experiences of the characters who cope with it. These experiences range between the tragic (Ellen's father, Chris, Jonathan), the heroic (Ellen's mother, Theresa, Mrs. Forsberg), and the "doing the best they can" (Ellen, Jeff, Brian, Jules).
I say loneliness, because human life is lonely. Virtually all of what we are lies beneath the surface. But effective communication is limited to our ability to toss words and feelings into the voids between us. To make it worse, do we transmit and receive with honesty? To make it worse, whose needs am I really meeting? Mine or yours?
I could write about this book for hours, but Amazon says 1,000 words max. Here are a few things that come to mind:
Ellen is a beautiful character. Quindlen uses the first person to share Ellen's honesty and contradictions. Claiming to take after her father, Ellen is steeped in her mother's graceful humanity. Young and naive, she is also ambitious and angry. Yet she lovingly devotes herself to the care of her mother.
This book fails to succumb to the melancholy of the subject. Most of the characters make great strides toward fulfilling and loving relationships, most notably, of course, Ellen and her Mom.
I like Quindlen's writing, which is at times is both blunt and delicate, honest and opinionated, but always thoughtful and revealing.
The book could have ended successfully at any one of the last several hundred sentences. I pictured Quindlen (smile), pounding away at the keyboard, trying to touch on the many important insights pouring from her brilliant mind, before bringing the story to a close.
It's a truly marvelous thing to spend a few bucks on a used book, read it, and experience such a strong emotional connection with a talented, emotional author and her characters.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and thought-provoking June 17 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
"One True Thing" is one of the best books I've read in ages. The writing is beautifully done and the story itself is touching, heartbreaking, surprising, and thought-provoking. It isn't always an easy book to read -- I was worn-out by the time I finally reached the end, but it was worth the ride.
The novel is told from the point-of-view of Ellen, an ambitious, successful, intelligent woman who quits her job and returns to her small college town to nurse her mother, who is dying of cancer. While Ellen's mother's cancer is an essential part of the story, "One True Thing" is most effective in its focus on family relationships, how we view and remember those relationships, and the mistakes we make in how we view relationships and each other.
One part of the story I especially enjoyed was a conversation between Ellen and her mother, Kate. They were reading "Pride and Prejudice" and Kate, a warm and nurturing housewife, has a rather interesting opinion. "I remember admiring it but being a little put off by it, too, because it does that cheap thing that people do, it makes the sister who is sweet and domestic and good a second fiddle to the one who is smart and outspoken...It didn't seem fair to me, that Jane was so good and yet Elizabeth is the one who is admired...Jane Austen should have known better than to make women into that kind of either-or thing...Women writers of all people should know better than to pigeonhole women, put them in little groups, the smart one, the sweet one..." This conversation between Ellen and Kate is in many ways the backbone of the story.
Also, I was very surprised by the revelation made at the end of the book. Isn't it great when an author can fool you about something? I must admit that I never saw that coming, and up until that moment, the book had not made me cry. It did then.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great May 18 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
this is a book that should be read by a mother and a daughter at the same time. this book was absolutely wonderful. i reccomend it to any reader over the age of 16!!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars good and sad Oct. 1 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book was beautifully written, engrossing, and I truly couldn't put it down until I finished. However, it was so utterly depressing. It wasn't the kind of sad that was a tear-jerker, I actually didn't cry. Rather, after finishing it I just felt depressed, and felt as though it left me hanging.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Good Book Sept. 5 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is a touching and well-written book that portrays mother-daughter and family relationships in all their complexity. It's realistic, yet filled with tender and even humorous moments. As a mother and author myself, of NEW PSALMS FOR NEW MOMS: A KEEPSAKE JOURNAL, I value all of our mothers who do so much for their children. Isn't it ironic that so much of what her mother created in their home was taken for granted by the heroine, Ellen, until she is faced with her mother's untimely death?
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the few books that made me cry! July 1 2003
By Sara
Format:School & Library Binding
Believe it or not, it was used in my English class.... and we had many discussions over the book and we didn't just simply talk about the plot but rather the deep human nature beyond the plot. I don't remember much of it right now as we read it quite a while ago.
As I was nearing to the end of Part 1, I realized that I just couldn't put the book down, the mother's on the deathbed, Ellen's still in shock that her mother would not be around soon and there were no trace of George in the household. The clock was ticking and the suspension was reaching to the climax... I just had to keep going.... I read the book from the end of my classes... all the way through dinner and after that....
I thought that plot, the characterization, the brewing conflicts... all beautifully written. She is definitely a master in leading the reader to the wrong conclusion and I have re-read sections over again, trying to figure out how she did it! It was my first Anna Quidlen book and perhaps I will try Black and Blue in the future.
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