Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead: book review
Overview: Laura descends from American royalty – diluted enough that it doesn't come with all the privileges, only most of them. She works for the nonprofit that her family started and her lifestyle is greatly supplemented by them. She's not sure she wants to have a child at all until a surprise pregnancy changes everything. She decides to keep the baby and raise the child as a single mother. This book cover the 1980s and 1990s as Laura navigates New York society and raising a daughter without a partner in a world full of social pressure. In the most slice of life style possible, you come to see the trials and tribulations of not just one mother-daughter relationship but the web of various familial ties that surround Laura. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 While some might find Laura off-putting, I very much enjoyed her as a narrator. She's frank and says what other people aren't willing to. This aspect of her comes through most in her narration, though the book is in third person, as her actions struggle between her ideals and the traditions and rigid social norms she was raised within. She's torn about what aspects of this to uphold in her own life and in her daughter's and which to do away with. Because of Laura's somewhat unique disposition, she finds herself on the outside of society most times, which is generally fine with her, but it's interesting to see how similar patterns arise again as her daughter comes of age in the world Laura never fit into. As the book goes on, the third person narration moves from being close third with Laura to sometimes telling various scenes from Emma's point of view showing her increased agency as she gets older.
As for other characters, the book mainly follows Laura's relationship with her family from her eccentric mother to her reserved father to her somewhat difficult brother and his wife. There's a very broad view of the family dynamics over the years that gets thoroughly examined. Laura also has her friend Margaret who she's been close to since grade school and serves as a confidant even though Margaret is much more entrenched in the world of keeping up appearances than Laura.
Plot: 4 This is a true slice of life book. Each section starts with a year and then various scenes from that particular year play out jumping around in time and topic separated by section breaks. I really like this vignette sort of style as it makes these thoughtful, introspective books faster paced, but that means that while the book is very linear, it doesn't have heaps of plot. Each year Greathead picks out the significant moments in their relationships to string together. They might be big and dramatic or a small exchange that seems inconsequential until it comes back around years later. The biggest plot point comes in the last chapter of the book leaving the character in a harrowing and unresolved situation. So if you don't like cliff hanger endings, maybe steer clear. It felt a bit odd, but then again, how do you end a book that just plods along through two decades? Where does it end?
Writing: 4 Greathead writes with a real matter of fact delivery. It's a simple but effective style and one that allows her to pull off this vignette style to great effect. She does a good job of weaving together smaller moments to create greater significance and building the characters slowly over a long period of time to make them feel very natural and human. She effectively navigates the points she wants to make without dipping too deeply into any particular theme, and it's an overall satisfying slice of life portrait.
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