Ordinary Paradise: A Memoir

Ordinary Paradise: A Memoir

by Laura Furman

Ordinary Paradise offers the moving story of a young girl's reaction to the early loss of her mother with its persisting consequences, as they affect choices the author has made with regard to her own family and future.

Laura Furman was thirteen-and-a-half years old at the time her mother died, swiftly and without explanation, from ovarian cancer,


Ordinary Paradise offers the moving story of a young girl's reaction to the early loss of her mother with its persisting consequences, as they affect choices the author has made with regard to her own family and future.

Laura Furman was thirteen-and-a-half years old at the time her mother died, swiftly and without explanation, from ovarian cancer, thus creating a rupture in the landscape of what had been a happy childhood that the author equates with the Great Rift Valley of Africa. In a family where no one spoke about anything messy or uncomfortable, the result was a repression of mourning to the point where the author felt that her own mother's existence was being obliterated: "Now it was as if she'd never existed—and if she hadn't existed, then I did not."

The difficulties that ensue, like the earlier description of happier times when Laura's mother was alive, are expressed in the clean, precise, supple style that has distinguished Furman's previous books. The book is not bitter; rather, this is a voyage of attempted understanding—honest and realistic in its depiction of the self-absorption of the surrounding adult world; heartbreaking in detail, but ultimately victorious as its heroine strives to possess the experience wholly for the first time, as a mother and wife. It is a powerful rendering of the effect upon the soul of an artist of the silences that often characterize a family's reaction to crisis.

Giving the memoir a contemporary focal point is the controversial decision made by the author in response to the statistical probability that she would follow her mother and grandmother into an early death. "No one spoke to me about the hereditary possibility of ovarian cancer but the bond I felt with my mother linked me with her disease. . . . Inside my abdomen (waited) patient black space that was not me and would be the end of me." This decision addresses issues of a woman's identity in a poignant fashion that the reader will never forget.

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.
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.

Product Details

Winedale Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >