Ordinary Paradise: A Memoir

Overview

When Laura Furman was only 13 her mother died from ovarian cancer, leaving Laura adrift in a damaged family where mourning was not allowed and remembrance itself was discouraged. This moving and powerful memoir chronicles the difficulties that result, as the author struggles to grow up untended and, in many ways, unnoticed. Ultimately, the story is one of triumph as its author strives to capture the ordinary paradise of family life that so many of us take for granted.
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Overview

When Laura Furman was only 13 her mother died from ovarian cancer, leaving Laura adrift in a damaged family where mourning was not allowed and remembrance itself was discouraged. This moving and powerful memoir chronicles the difficulties that result, as the author struggles to grow up untended and, in many ways, unnoticed. Ultimately, the story is one of triumph as its author strives to capture the ordinary paradise of family life that so many of us take for granted.
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Editorial Reviews

Andrea Cooper
...[S]hows how a devastating loss, acknowledged or not, can seep through the family psyche....dreamy, imagistic prose.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this sometimes haunting memoir, novelist Furman describes the first 13 years of a life geographically divided between an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side and a summer house in New Jersey and temporally bifurcated by her mother's death when she was just 13. Furman evokes the life of a relatively happy child who, in addition to her two sisters, lived with her outgoing, nurturing mother, Minnie, and her responsible but reclusive father, Sylvan, who liked to be left alone to paint when he returned home from work. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1958, Minnie took less than a year to die, during which time neither parent ever mentioned the seriousness of her condition to their children. Stricken by an intense grief that she could not express to her emotionally distant father, Furman repressed her feelings about her mother's death and her father's remarriage. Later, when she cut herself with a razor in a plea for attention, Sylvan had her admitted to a mental hospital where she was treated with thorazine. Upon her release Furman began writing, but it was only when she moved to Texas and met her husband-to-be (with whom she adopted a son) that she was able to come to terms with her mother's death. Although moving, the writing can be a bit awkward ("I caught myself and truncated the sensation," or on the same page, "That summer kissing began, full of saliva and juicy lips"). Also, because Furman's grandmother and mother both died of ovarian cancer, she elected to have her healthy ovaries removed. Greater exposition of this unusual decision would have made for a more complete portrait of Furman's maternal legacy.
Andrea Cooper
...[S]hows how a devastating loss, acknowledged or not, can seep through the family psyche....dreamy, imagistic prose. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir detailing the loss of a mother from ovarian cancer in 1959, when the author was a young teenager, and the shadow the experience cast over her own life. Novelist Furman (Tuxedo Park) grew up in New York City, summering in the New Jersey countryside. Her grandmother too died of the disease. As the author says early on here of her adult self, "the medium through which I felt most intensely was still my mother's death." In recounting an ordinary enough past, paradise or not, Furman displays an unmemorable prose style, rendering the details of her rites of passage—for example, the beginning of menstruation. Yes, now she is able to connect the onset of her own menarche with the organ that "betrayed" her mother, but the point falls flat. With her father's remarriage, Furman locates herself in the age-old tale of the unwanted stepchild. An unhappy, self-romanticizing young adult reading Fitzgerald and Chandler, she attempted halfheartedly to injure herself and was confined for a period to a psychiatric hospital. Images linger of the terminally ill mother moving her car from one side of the street to the other in accordance with local regulations, or ordering Chicken Kiev at the Russian Tea Room, but none of this detail seems to matter, to tell us any more about her; even the details of the wording commissioned for her mother's headstone fail to stir. There are occasional surprising moments of illumination in Furman's world-weariness. Of an aunt's recollection of her quarrel with the author's mother: "I listened to her hopeless recital of the quarrel and the cause, and I wished I never had to hear about it again." Later, married, raising an adopted son, and living inTexas, Furman underwent the prophylactic removal of her own ovaries. May be of interest to others who've lost loved ones to this disease, but too prosaic in the telling to sustain most readers' engagement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780965746847
  • Publisher: Winedale Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Furman

LAURA FURMAN is the author of two novels, Tuxedo Park and The Shadow Line; two short story collections, The Glass House and Watch Time Fly; and, with Elinore Standard an anthology, Bookworms: Great Writers and Readers Celebrate Reading. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Mirabella, House & Garden, GQ, Ploughshares, and Southwest Review. She was the founding editor of American Short Fiction and has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Dobie-Paisano Fellowship. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. She and her husband, Joel Warren Barna, and their son make their home in Austin, Texas.

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