New Novel Offers Grim Outlook, Hopeful View

Author Lauren Grodstein's new novel tells the story of a mother with terminal cancer who writes a book of memories for the son she'll leave behind.

Photo courtesy of The Publisher.

Can a book that confronts something as grim as terminal cancer also be humorous and optimistic? Our Short History, the new novel by New Jersey writer Lauren Grodstein, manages to be.

Karen Neulander, a New York political consultant and single mother, has been diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. She’s compelled to write a book full of wisdom, advice, and all the stories—both amusing and heartbreaking—she won’t be able to tell her 6-year-old son, Jake, after she’s gone. In doing so, Karen comes to terms with her impending death and Jake’s future without her.

Grodstein, who teaches creative writing and directs the MFA program at Rutgers University–Camden, wrote the book after watching friends with children battle cancer, some of whom lost the fight. “Those deaths really shook me,” she says.

Our Short History, due March 21 from Algonquin, is a poignant and genuine story for anyone—especially parents—whose life has been impacted by cancer.

“This is the closest protagonist to myself that I’ve ever written,” says Grodstein, whose last two novels—A Friend of the Family (Algonquin, 2009) and The Explanation for Everything (Algonquin, 2013)—were stories with male protagonists. Like Karen, she knows intimately how it feels to be “madly in love with your child.”

Raised in Haworth in Bergen County, Grodstein lived in New York for 15 years before returning to Jersey. She now lives in Moorestown with her husband, son and dog. “I always knew I’d end up in New Jersey,” she says, “and I feel happy about my choice.”

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