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One True Thing: A Novel Paperback – August 8, 2006

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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library Journal Learn more
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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's story of a woman accused of helping her mortally ill mother die spent seven weeks on PW's bestseller list
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976182
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (239 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anna Quindlen is the author of three bestselling novels, Object Lessons, One True Thing and Black and Blue, and three non-fiction books, Living Out Loud, Thinking Out Loud and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Her New York Times column 'Public and Private' won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. She is currently a columnist for Newsweek and lives with her husband and children in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Jean Baldridge Yates VINE VOICE on May 8, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I remember Anna Quindlen when she was a reporter, but I have never read any of her books. I bought this one, not knowing that a movie had been made of it (ok, so I live under a rock), but rather because it was in paperback and I "needed something" to read.
"You" says Ellen Gulden's father, as he throws her stuff out on the porch after she suggests he "hire a nurse" to take care of her dying mother, "have a Harvard education, but you have no heart."
And so starts her journey back into her family (she quits her job in the big city), back to the mother she never really identified with. So starts her learning process--about human nature...not just about books, or concepts. So starts her learning process about what love is, and what communication between human beings is. It is not just analyzing some dry tract, or being the "Star Pupil". It is far more complicated than that. And this is a complicated, super book.
With her mother's inevitable death, her learning process continues and she changes, finally, into a person "with a heart". I cannot express how moved I was by this book. I was absolutely entranced from page one and read it in three days. I sense that many of the people who review in this section ( the book section) like me, love to analyze things and appreciate beautiful, honest writing. Well, guess what? You get that here, but you also get something more--a look at yourself, and how you must communicate with your family and loved ones, in less "removed" ways. I did, anyway. I am going to try to see things from a more human perspective, because of this book. It is good to judge, and yet sometimes it is better to act from the heart. Oh: and I will TRY to COOK MORE. Can't swear I'll clean any more than I already do, but nobody's perfect. :)
best, Jean
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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Caiozzo on July 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
When I started reading One True Thing, it took me a while to realize I had already seen the movie with Meryl Streep, but as is the case most of the time, the book is undoubtedly better. The book explores complicated family dynamics that are revealed to the reader as Kathy Gulden, the mother who uses her acute intelligence, warmth, creativity and nurturing and loving spirit to devote herself to her children and to her husband, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ellen Gulden, is the first child and she is her father's "golden girl." Her father is a professor of English at the local Langhorne College. Ellen and her father share a love of the written word and they have always engaged in esoteric debates and discussions about literature. In short, Ellen idolizes her "brilliant" and charming father, whom everyone else seems to adore, and she looks at her mother's homemade Christmas decorations, expertly made casseroles and well-managed home with a sort of disdain. Ellen's two younger brothers are unable to bond with the father as she does, and the feeling one gets is that the brothers don't seem to "pass muster" in the father's eyes.

This is a story of personal transformation and the destruction of illusions within a family. Ellen is guilted into caring for her dying mother, and she does it at first to garner her father's approval. As the novel unfolds, Ellen begins to see the reality of who her mother truly is. She discovers her mother is not just some cardboard figure who has wasted her life baking brownies for her family. ELlen learns life is so much more complicated than that. SHe learns things about her father that she never could have imagined.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 23, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
One True Thing is a perfect book for a quiet day, a jumble of quilts and a fire.
Quindlen's prose is melodious and its lyricism belies her stark observations about how we understand and are understood by those we love.
I was suprised at the adept adaptation of his novel for the screen. The film managed to capture some of the book's most arresting moments while adding important scenes perfectly in keeping with Quindlen's style and intention.
Some readers have complained that the men in the book are weak. That's true. They are weak, selfish, self-centered, lacking in compassion and empathy when those qualities are needed most.
This is the experience of many, many women who trudge on alone, particularly in times of crisis and great emotional pain in their lives and those of their families.
We have all certainly seen ordinary women die alone with great courage or use their strength and compassion to guide others toward a dignified death while the men in their lives slink into a corner, too upset to cope.
Men are generally forgiven this peculiar flaw, requiring even more women to step in and take their place. It is the lack of complaint by women that renders male behavior in this regard utterly invisible.
Ellen's dying mother, an icon of self-sacrifice, has helped to perpetuate this behavior in her husband by labeling it a weakness of character. Ellen herself will have none of his excuses, knowing that love involves the will as well as the heart, and so is powerfully reprimanded by her mother.
And hey -- where are her brothers while she struggles on alone as daddy keeps his extreme distance? Nobody even gives her a week off!
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