We Only Know So Much: A Novel

( 19 )

Overview

Jean Copeland, an emotionally withdrawn wife and mother of two, has taken a secret lover—only to lose him in a moment of tragedy that leaves her reeling. Her husband, Gordon, is oblivious, distracted by the fear that he's losing his most prized asset: his memory. Daughter Priscilla (a pill since birth—don't get us started) is talking about clothes, or TV, or whatever, and hatching a plan to extend her maddening reach to all of America. Nine-year-old Otis is torn between his two ...

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Overview

Jean Copeland, an emotionally withdrawn wife and mother of two, has taken a secret lover—only to lose him in a moment of tragedy that leaves her reeling. Her husband, Gordon, is oblivious, distracted by the fear that he's losing his most prized asset: his memory. Daughter Priscilla (a pill since birth—don't get us started) is talking about clothes, or TV, or whatever, and hatching a plan to extend her maddening reach to all of America. Nine-year-old Otis is torn between his two greatest loves: crossword puzzles and his new girlfriend.

At the back of the house, grandfather Theodore is in the early throes of Parkinson's disease. (And he's fine with it—as long as they continue to let him walk the damn dog alone.) And Vivian, the family's ninety-eight-year-old matriarch, is a razor-sharp grande dame who suffers no fools...and still harbors secret dreams of her own.

With empathy, humor, and an unforgettable voice, Elizabeth Crane reveals what one family finds when everyone goes looking for meaning in all the wrong places.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the heart of the dysfunctional Copland family, in Crane’s debut novel (after You Must Be This Happy to Enter, her third short story collection), is bookish wife and mother Jean, embroiled in an affair with a suicidal lover. Her husband, Gordon, remains oblivious, too busy worrying that he’s lost his mind after a run-in with an ex-girlfriend he doesn’t even remember. Their daughter, Priscilla, is a fashionista desperate to become a reality TV star, while their nine-year-old son, Otis, has fallen in love for the very first time. Gordon’s father is struggling with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, and family matriarch, Vivian, is determined to overcome long-held fears. Crane’s novel is filled with deliciously idiosyncratic characters, humorous and distinct narration, and a whole lot of personality. Each character’s emotional growth is just enough to satisfy, without being overbearing. And while a family overview at the start makes for a tricky entrée, Crane’s summer novel has undeniable heart. Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (June)
Booklist
"This is an irresistible and winsome read. A truly astute tale of love neglected and reclaimed, family resiliency, spiritual inquiries, and personal metamorphoses."
Los Angeles Times
“Its style is literary, with an edge: The point of view is wicked, the characters prickly, the language not quite quotable here. I can’t wait to read past the first chapter.”
Entertainment Weekly
“The Copelands would feel right at home in a Noah Baumbach movie. . . . Our narrator is an omniscient ‘We’ who reports the goings-on of the family with the breathless glee of an incurable gossip.”
Iowa Press-Citizen
"Like any good story writer, she had me in the first two paragraphs. . . . A treat to read. The characters are crisp and enjoyable; the narrator is smart and witty."
Deb Olin Unferth
“At last a novel from Elizabeth Crane! With her expert humorist’s eye for detail, she gives us a playful, passionate story of longing, heartbreak, and of the gargantuan human will. You won’t be able to stop reading.”
Jessica Anya Blau
“Not since The Royal Tenenbaums have I loved a family so much. The Copelands of WE ONLY KNOW SO MUCH are wonderfully eccentric, hilariously not self-aware and strangely adorable. They seemed so real, I felt like I was reading my own family story.”
Susan Henderson
“This is the kind of book that inspires a person to see the beauty in the ordinary, to stop concentrating on others’ failings long enough to see their spark and maybe rediscover his or her own.”
Patrick Somerville
“A beautiful, warmhearted, ferociously honest debut that will pull you in with its chorus of true voices and catch you off guard with its playful, restless edginess.”
Marcy Dermansky
“What I know for sure is this: Elizabeth Crane understands family. The simple pleasures, the daily outrage, the constant burying of secrets. Be careful what you say to your children -- they are listening. A funny and remarkable first novel.”
Booklist (starred review)
“This is an irresistible and winsome read. A truly astute tale of love neglected and reclaimed, family resiliency, spiritual inquiries, and personal metamorphoses.”
IOWA PRESS-CITIZEN
“Like any good story writer, she had me in the first two paragraphs. . . . A treat to read. The characters are crisp and enjoyable; the narrator is smart and witty.”
Kirkus Reviews
Crane delivers a unique and dizzying tale that delves into the emotional life of a family teetering on the brink of everything. Best known for her three short story collections, Crane (You Must Be This Happy to Enter, 2008, etc.) graduates to novels with a surprisingly centered and cohesive debut about a family that is, as their self-centered teenage daughter would phrase it, "losing their shit." Our most promising and emotionally truthful character is Jean Copeland, seemingly dutiful wife to husband Gordon and equally devoted mother to teenage daughter Priscilla and 9-year-old romantic Otis. But we soon learn that life in the Copeland family is not at all what it might seem on the surface. In fact, Jean is having a joyful affair with James, a member of her book club who quietly suffers from disabling depression. Gordon is dealing with his own challenges, as the self-professed expert in nearly everything is rapidly losing his memory. Priscilla thinks her future lies in reality TV shows, but that's mostly beside the point--"First of all, Priscilla is a bitch," Crane candidly writes. Otis' story is sweetest as he pines away for a classmate, toiling away at heart-shaped crosswords to win her heart. The beauty in Crane's novel is her sweep from acid commentary to heartfelt portrayal of real-life loves and losses. "Review: difficult daughter, know-it-all dad, son sweet and okay if a little weird, mom delayed potential/having affair, great grand-mother bitchy, granddad losing it. So we know where we're starting," writes Crane. But Crane's offhand style is woven seamlessly with heartbreaking arcs like the suicide of Jean's lover, Gordon's inappropriate Facebook stalking of a former classmate, and Jean's elegant dismissal of her daughter's drama. "God didn't punk you, daughter," adds Jean in an internal monologue. "Life is what you make it. Nobody knows this better than me." Life in a snow globe made from dashed dreams and misunderstandings.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062099471
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 493,363
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the story collections When the Messenger Is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has been featured in McSweeney's The Future Dictionary of America, The Best Underground Fiction, and elsewhere. This is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
Rating Distribution

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(3)

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(5)

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 26, 2012

    Beautifully written with a unique and compelling voice, this nov

    Beautifully written with a unique and compelling voice, this novel is a moving - and very funny - coming of age story; only it's not any one person, but the entire Copeland family that's coming-of-age. One of the freshest novels I've read in a long time.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2013

    This book is the funniest book I have ever read in my reading ca

    This book is the funniest book I have ever read in my reading career. It is literally laugh out loud, I can't breath funny! I cannot wait to read more of her work.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013

    Funny

    The writing style is different but I loved the book. The characters are charming even when they're not. Relatable even when you wish they weren't if your being honest with yourself.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2013

    If you do not like passive narration this book is not for you.

    If you do not like passive narration this book is not for you. I actually think that Elizabeth Crane is a very talented writer, and found the characters fairly engaging and funny. However, the lack of concrete conflict (other than life) and the lack of a unifying narrative thread left me wondering why I should care.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2013

    PLAESE READ!!!!!

    This book is funny alert plaese be alert

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 18, 2012

    great read highly recommend

    great read highly recommend

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 25, 2013

    One hot mess. That¿s the first thought that comes to mind. The s

    One hot mess. That’s the first thought that comes to mind. The story was told out of sequence; the characters proved unlikeable and sometimes odious; the entire family managed to engage in conversations without ever really talking about anything meaningful; relationships died faster than a daisy in the middle of a blizzard; the voice was quirky, at times eccentric, and it filled me up with about as much hope as a five car pile-up. But I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. I can’t adequately explain it, but it spoke to me like a ghost with two heads, or a blue lizard with his mouth open and eyes wide, telling me meaningful and profound thoughts with a slight upturn of his head.

    I went into WE ONLY KNOW SO MUCH without any predispositions or inclinations, and I was glad I had my eyes open wide, and just went along for the ride. Because this story took me to some dark places, down some lonely roads, and I didn’t particularly like myself at all parts of this journey, but it was an exploratory endeavor that was as discombobulated and confusing and complicated as life itself. Had I not been a bit eccentric, I might have been less than thrilled with this ride, but I often look at myself (and I say this with complete sincerity) as one hot mess. So I connected with the material on a deep, meaningful level, even though it took me a while to reach the level of full emersion.

    This novel breaks the major rule of writing: Show, don’t tell. Told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, it single-handedly proves that with good writing there are no rules. Because I loved the fact that the narrator talks directly to the audience with a bit of dialogue, exposition, and backstory thrown in to move the story along. Even when it moves a bit tangentially (again, I’m often prone to making random connections in the universe), I was giddy with Elizabeth Crane’s storytelling ability. It was like snuggling up in a warm blanket, even if that blanket may turn around and occasionally bite you on the butt.

    Robert Downs
    Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2013

    A

    You asked for anyone to tell you whether to pick up this book again. Its not your typical novel. More important are the character sketches combined with your personal insight.

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