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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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on July 24, 2006
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. Ellen is given the opportunity as caretaker to exhibit her softer, gentler side, so different from the description of her as someone who would walk over her mother in golf spikes to succeed. We tend to oversimplify and cast family members in some preconceived and rigid mold, and often we are blind to the truth of who they really are. Quindlen explores this beautifully.

THe book is well written, but at no point was I bowled over by the the beauty of the prose. I think I am spoiled after reading a book like The Kite Runner, but Quindlen tells an excellent story here and it is one worth telling. I am glad Ellen had the opportunity to learn about what a much more complicated and multifaceted person her mother was before it was too late.
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on November 23, 1999
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!
That isn't to say that all guys are wimpy poops like George Gulden or creeps like Ellen's pretty-boy beau or that all women are Mother Theresa (thank god, or the dead would be dead even faster)
But if most man were as compassionate and emotionally generous as say, Pierce Brosnan (yeah, ladies, he's not just hot), One True Thing would ring shrill as a cheap phone. It does not.
I recommend the book for Quindlen's beautiful prose, her confrontation of our worst fears and for her story-telling style. The judicial aspects of the book's (but not the film's) ending were attenuated, distracting and more unlikely than not, but One True Thing is a keeper, a loaner and a book I will long remember.
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For a novel without much action, intrigue or romance, "One True Thing" catches your attention and holds it until you turn the last page. This skillfully woven drama tells of the evolving relationship between a young woman, her ailing mother and emotionally detached father.

Ellen Gulden unwillingly gives up her life and career to return home to look after her mother, and finds that there are many things she never knew about the deceptively strong and proud woman. During the caring and bonding process, Ellen learns to cook, craft, and generally take over her mother's role in the house, while her cynical and sharp edges are unobtrusively smoothed away.

The death of her mother brings a new set of problems, and while Ellen insists on her innocence, she is accused of a terrible crime. During this trying period, her relationships with the people closest to her change considerably, leading to an unexpected ending.

Amanda Richards, December 26, 2005
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on September 19, 2002
I bought this book a few years ago at a charity garage sale, not really paying too much attention to what the book was about. (Besides, the entire back cover and several inside pages are just devoted to reviews, leaving no room for a synopsis.) Even though it's been a long time since I've read this book, I still love it. Anna Quindlen is an absolute master (or is it mistress?) at writing. She creates such a touching and unforgettable story about a 24-year-old New Yorker (Ellen Gulden) who returns home to unknowingly take care of her 46-year-old mother who is dying of cancer. The relationships Ellen has with her family are quite captivating (particularly the one she has with her mother) and, at times, even mysterious, which is the case with her father, a man Ellen is always trying to impress.
Categorically, "One True Thing" is mainstream literature, but there's an undercurrent of mystery and suspense regarding the events of her mother's sudden death, leading the reader to believe someone in the family was involved in euthanasia--or possibly murder. The ending will certainly surprise you.
I highly recommend this book. The 1998 movie that was made, however, is not nearly as good as the book, even though it had some great actresses and actors (Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, William Hurt, and Tom Everett Scott). In my opinion, the movie didn't capture Quindlen's storytelling, nor did it do the book any justice. So, in summary: definitely read the book, but rent the movie afterwards only if you're a fan of one of the actors or actresses.
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on August 14, 2000
My mother passed away (not from cancer), but from heart failure due to a condition called Mitral Regurgitation. All she really needed was a valve replacement but it was too late. My mom's death was very sudden & unexpected on January 24, 2000. In any case, my mother told me she loved this book. I had to read it...especially after she passed away. The story is a sad one about a mother who is dying of cancer with a bit of a twist about 'who killed her'! It taught me that time is precious and to spend your time with those you love. There's a line in the book about the best time of year to die which is January or February during the winter season. God chose that time of year for my mom, but is there really a "best time" to die? Probably not, yet, death is inevitable for everyone and anyone. Who knows though...the recent June 2000 'Human Genome Code' discovery could make human lives last for 200 or more years someday. This book has much more detail than the film version, although, Meryl Streep does an outstanding performance as the mother in the film. She was even nominated Best Actress for the film. The most interesting line in the book for me: "February is a suitable month for dying. Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots tow months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long."
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on February 26, 2007
If you want a book that makes you reexamine your perceptions of your parents, your siblings, yourself, this is a good start. Particularly poignant for all the women who were expected to "make something of themselves" meaning more than their mothers did.

It's hard for me to say enough good things about this book, but I probably have a library of 20,000 books and this is one of the best ten. When a book goes, wrong, it goes wrong in a number of ways, but when it is right, what can you say other than "perfect". Beautiful language, great characterization, though-provoking issues, some real lessons, and an unpredictable ending. One of those "every word is gold" books.
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on February 4, 2000
I read "One True Thing" several years ago, before the movie came out, and still am impressed with the richness of it. It is a beautiful, deep story that keeps giving till the very end.
The events regarding the mother's illness and the mercy killing charges are mere backdrops enabling the main character to fully learn just who her mother was. This is a story of discovery, which culminates at the end with the greatest discovery of all.
It is beautifully written. I was, and still am, greatly touched by it. It is remarkable book dealing with the subtle yet astounding realization that people are not always who we perceive them to be.
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on June 25, 2000
After reading Object Lessons I knew that Anna Quindlen had a gift in telling a young girl's "coming-of age" story. In One True Thing we read the story of a young woman whose mother is diagnosed with cancer very early on in the book. As the book progresses we begin to care very much about Ellen and her family. The book does not drown us in medical jargon nor are we spoken down to yet we understand fully the exact nature of Ellen's mother's illness. Every facet of Ellen's life changes during the course of the book. She is an aspiring journalist, has moved out on her own and must move back home to care for her mother. Ellen's relationship with her professor father is fascinating, as a daughter learns that her father isn't the perfect man she thought he was. While I expected a predictable outcome I was surprised because the book did not go in the directions we would assume. Very well written and gut-wrenching as it is, I was left with a strong opinion of Ms. Quindlen's abilities as a writer.
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on August 15, 2005
This book had a good buzz around it, and I picked it up without knowing it was about a mother dying of cancer. That's not my usual fare, and I'm glad I got into this novel, because it was absolutely amazing. This is a must-read for any mother or daughter, and I think it would be enjoyed by high school readers, especially those in the AP-English fast-track, because Ellen is a perfect example of a high school overahiever whose adult life gets put on hold to take care of her mother. Many high schoolers will be able to relate to Ellen.

Ellen always favored her father when growing up, but during her mother's illnes she perceives him as completely selfish, and she starts to learn about her mother as a person. It is tragic that it takes terminal illness for Ellen to learn about the magic of the softer side of her mother, the loving and cooking part that isn't focused on academia and a fast paced career. Watching the mother-daughter relationship blossom while mom is under Ellen's care is abosolutely beautiful and will transport you to another place.

There's a great moral dilemma about euthanasia in here, and the novel starts out with Ellen in jail for her mother's death, and then Quindlen fills in the backstory so that the reader can decide for themselves what they think the right action was. The Epilogue to the book brought me a sense of closure. This is a masterpiece and I highly recommend it to any literature lover.
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