Thursday, June 21, 2012

book review: We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane

The backstory: Elizabeth Crane is the lone author who has had a place on my list of favorite writers without writing a novel. Until now. I've read and adored all three of her short story collections: When the Messenger Is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter (my review).

The basics: We Only Know So Much is the story of the Copeland family: 98-year-old Vivian; her son Theodore, whose memory is quickly fading; his son Gordon, who incessantly quotes Wikipedia; his wife, Jean, who is having an affair with a man in her book club; their daughter Priscilla, who is a self-absorbed teenager who dreams of being on reality tv; and their son Otis, who is nine and smart beyond his years. These four generations of Copelands all live in the same house. They share little else besides their obliviousness for one another.

My thoughts: As a reader, I often hear others exclaim, "the book was so good I didn't want it to end!" I've rarely shared those sentiments, as I always want a book to end so I can know what happens. Endings can sometimes make or break a novel for me. With Elizabeth Crane, however, I don't want her work to end. It's the reason I adore her short stories when I rarely enjoy short stories. I'm completely enamored with the way she describes our world.

The narrator in We Only Know So Much is the we of the title: "if we didn't know better, we might think she believed it to be a grammatical rule, and that, in her universe, the rarely used comma is reserved for sarcastic pauses only." Instead of distracting, this narration instantly bonds the reader with the narrator: who are we to be looking in on this crazy family? More importantly: I'm not in this alone.

Favorite passage: "Vivian operates at a pretty high level of denial where unpleasant things are concerned."

The verdict: We Only Know So Much is a delight. The quirky Copeland family are fascinating, but the narrator's take on the family is truly beguiling. If you're looking for a smart, sarcastic, hilarious novel: it's here, but you'll also be moved by its emotion and heart.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: June 12, 2012
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy We Only Know So Much from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more? Visit Elizabeth Crane's website, follow her on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook. Read what others thought too: the full tour schedule is here.


As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

12 comments:

  1. WOW...I've never heard of this one, but sounds like one I now need to read. Loved what you had to say.

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    1. Thanks, Diane! I feel like Elizabeth Crane is my favorite obscure author, and I hope she can move to the more well=known category with this one!

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  2. This sounds like a book I would really like, though the first person plural narration makes me hesitate. It's not a style I've had luck with in the past -- it was the main reason I didn't love The Virgin Suicides. I did okay with it in The Buddha in the Attic, though maybe because that book was so short.

    Rambling aside, this sounds like a great story, no matter the narration. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Rayna, I know what you mean about first person plural. It wasn't as ubiquitous as it was in Buddha in the Attic (although it didn't bother me there), and it did feel like this unknown narrator was talking to the reader rather than the characters .

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  3. This sounds great! It seems like the narration adds a lot to what could maybe have been a typical story about a dysfunctional family?

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    1. I wouldn't say the story is typical;-), but the narration is amazing. I laughed, I winced, I cried. I mostly laughed and highlighted in earnest. I think you'd like it:-)

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  4. This sounds like a truly wonderful summer read! Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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  5. Oooh, I need this one! I'm sorry I missed a chance on the tour -- I bet this would be a winner for me!

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    1. Audra, I think you'd really like Crane's writing!

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  6. I sampled her stories before I read this novel, but I think I enjoyed the novel more. (That could have more to do with having read so many Alice Munro short stories lately, which are amazing, but not at all the same style.) The idea of you having "highlighted in earnest" makes me giggle, and I agree that it's the kind of book that could have gone on a good bit longer before I'd've looked up from the page; I became quite attached to these characters and really wanted things to turn out well for each of them.

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    1. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed Crane's work! I'm quite pleased she wrote a novel, as her short stories are among the only ones I've really enjoyed for more than one collection.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!