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One True Thing

One True Thing

3.7 29
by Anna Quindlen

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One True Thing is a breathtaking, brilliantly realized novel, and it moves Anna Quindlen to the forefront of fiction writers in America. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Quindlen is widely admired for her extraordinary intelligence, humor, and insight, and for the depth of her perceptions about the public and private lives of ordinary people. All


One True Thing is a breathtaking, brilliantly realized novel, and it moves Anna Quindlen to the forefront of fiction writers in America. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, Quindlen is widely admired for her extraordinary intelligence, humor, and insight, and for the depth of her perceptions about the public and private lives of ordinary people. All these distinctive and original gifts, plus the magic only a superb writer of fiction can create, are evident in this astonishing book.

A young woman is in jail, accused of the mercy killing of her mother. She says she didn't do it; she thinks she knows who did. When Ellen Gulden first learns that her mother, Kate, has cancer, the disease is already far advanced. Her father insists that Ellen quit her job and come home to take care of Kate. Ellen has always been the special child in the family, the high achiever, her father's intellectual match, and the person caught in the middle between her parents. She has seen herself as very different from her mother, the talented homemaker, the family's popular center, its one true thing. Yet as Ellen begins to spend her days with Kate, she learns many surprising things, not only about herself but also about her mother, a woman she thought she knew so well. The life choices Ellen and her mother have made are reassessed in this deeply moving novel, a work of fiction that is richly imbued with profound insights into the complex lives of women and men.

Anna Quindlen writes masterfully, and with great sophistication and grace, about love and death, sexuality and betrayal, the triangles within a family, identity, growth, and change. She writes about the mysteries at the heart of the person we think we are, of who and what we know. And she explores the ambiguities that make up marriage, character, family, and fate. As Kate Gulden's pain increases, so do the dosages of morphine. And so does Ellen's belief that her mother's suffering is unendurable. One True Thing is remarkable.

Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
Considering her Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed columns for the New York Times (collected in the invigorating Thinking Out Loud ), it's no surprise that Quindlen's fiction has a strong moral component. The question posed in this tilt-a-world tale of self-sacrifice, grief, suspense, and revelation is whether or not a person has the right to die. And, further, how on earth can a person convince themselves to end the life of a loved one, no matter how awful their suffering?

The novel begins with a deceptively hubristic prologue in which our narrator, 24-year-old Ellen Gulden, describes what it's like to be in jail charged with killing her dying mother. Then we get the real story, every painful, ironic bit of it. Fresh out of Harvard and eager to prove herself as a journalist, Ellen is completely unprepared for her rather elusive and dismissive father's request that she move back home and nurse her mother, who, at age 46, has suddenly become terribly ill. Ellen has always been a daddy's girl, dismissing her homespun mother as an anachronism. Now, as she enters her mother's world just as her mother is about to exit it, everything she's ever assumed about her family and, indeed, life itself is challenged.

It isn't easy reading about how cancer ravages Ellen's once radiant and ever-nurturing mother, but it is eminently satisfying to witness Ellen's transformation from an often glib, emotionally suppressed overachiever into a woman who begins to fathom the meaning of love. Quindlen also gets in some good jabs at the media for its feverish appetite for easy scandal and its irrelevance to the truth manifest in genuine tragedies. -- Booklist

From the Publisher
“Fiercely compassionate and frank . . . conveys a world so out of kilter and so like ours that its readers are likely to feel both exhilarated and unnerved by its accuracy.”Elle

“A masterpiece.”Tulsa World

“Provocative . . . We leave One True Thing stimulated and challenged, more thoughtful than when we began.”Los Angeles Times

“Like a brush with mortality, One True Thing leaves the reader feeling grateful, wide awake, lucky to be alive.”—Michael Chabon
“It calls you back for another read. . . . This is a book of catharsis.”The Denver Post

“A triumph.”San Francisco Chronicle

“It is simply impossible to forget.”—Alice Hoffman

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:

What People are Saying About This

Susan Isaacs
There is not a single false word in One True Thing. Readers of her columns in the New York Times are aware that Anna Quindlen has a first-class mind; now they will master the great heart at last.
Alice Hoffman
So uncompromising in its portrait of life and death, so honest in its rendering of love and loss, that it is simply impossible to forget.

Meet the Author

Anna Quindlen is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. She is the author of eight novels: Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings, Rise and Shine, Every Last One, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and Miller’s Valley. Her memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, published in 2012, was a number one New York Times bestseller. Her book A Short Guide to a Happy Life has sold more than a million copies. While a columnist at The New York Times she won the Pulitzer Prize and published two collections, Living Out Loud and Thinking Out Loud. Her Newsweek columns were collected in Loud and Clear.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
July 8, 1952
Place of Birth:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
B.A., Barnard College, 1974

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One True Thing 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading Black and Blue by the same author and thoroughly enjoying it, I decided to give One True Thing a try. From the first page, I was drawn into Ellen's story. Like Ellen, I love my mother but often have a difficult time understanding her, and I am not very close to her. Reading this book helped me to appreciate my mother even more. I am not a very emotional person, and I am not a big crier, but after finishing One True Thing I used up almost a whole box of tissues. For anyone that is browsing the shelves and looking for a good book to read, One True Thing is a perfect choice. I have read a lot of books, and this is one of the best books that I've ever read. Anna Quindlen has an amazing ability to write a story that is interesting, characters that you can relate to, and themes and morals that really make you think.
1louise1 More than 1 year ago
Ellen returns home to take care of her mother, who is dying from cancer, where the experience uncovers many secrets. This one is powerful with tremendous insight into the heart of relationships. Fabulous read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
One True Thing is one of those books that, once started, cannot be left alone. I began reading it shortly after my mother finally succumbed to a long illness. I needed desperately to talk to someone who understood how I felt--and I found her within the pages of this book. A must-read for anyone who has ever experienced the grief of losing a parent.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read of Anna Quindlen, whoever doesn't read this book is really missing out on some excitement, this book has suspense, drama, excitement, everything that makes a great book great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I actually read this book after I had seen the movie. I think we as humans think we have all the time in the world, but the sad truth is that we don't, and we really don't appreciate the depth of a mother's love until it is too late. This book brings that to the table very openly and honestly. It forces you to think, and re-evaluate your relationship with your mother, even others you share your life with.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One True Thing While reading Anna Quindlen¿s novel One True Thing I quickly recognized a good book. Ellen, the main character, grew up in a small town on the east coast. Here everyone lives in colonials and capes with little gardens in the front. The perfect little neighborhood. Everyone knows each other and there business, especially when things are wrong. That is why it was no surprise to me when Ellen decided to move to New York City to pursue her talent as a journalist in one of the popular magazines. There was nothing holding her back to the town. No great opportunity, no friends, not even her family whom she had never had a strong relationship with anyway. Ellen never really had that mother-daughter relationship that you read about in books and see in the movies. I think the character that Quindlen created as Ellen is a lot like a lot of girls which is much of the reason why it is easy to relate and exciting to read. What gives the novel a twist is when Kate, Ellen¿s mother, is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her father makes Ellen feel extremely guilty until she feels obligated to move back home and care for her dying mother. The true tragedy of the disease makes you feel not only for Kate but for Ellen as well who is losing someone she didn¿t really know. The theme that is apparent throughout the novel is, knowing yourself. Ellen had yet to realize who she was and what she was meant to do in the world. Kate on the other hand had her whole life to look back on to determine if she did indeed make the right choices. Ellen had always viewed her mother whom she had been around since the day she was born as a puppet. She cared for the children and cooked for her husband. Her husband cheated on her but everyday when he came home dinner would be there and the children were bathed and ready for bed. But it was only in the last few months of Kate¿s life that Ellen really understood the depth behind her mother. This novel really explores the depth of mother-daughter relationships and makes you think about your own connection with your mother. The things that Ellen finds out about her mother in those last few months is astounding and makes you question how much you really know about your own mother. I would recommend this book to everyone who doesn¿t mind a tear-jerker and who likes real life stories; this is sure to be a true classic.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Exellent!!!!! Touched you right from the beginning.
Anonymous 5 months ago
I've known many people who have died from cancer, and have never heard of an autopsy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most likely you will not go back to read this"REVIEW"because one,yours was written about three years ago and two you don't like to read reviews,just a rating,the way I take it.Just if the book was good or bad!!I must say you are certainatly in a class of your own.Are you saying that if someone says buy the book,it'good.What are you going to do if the next person says the book sucked.I've never ever known a topic that has ever had the same opinion from everyone.You're my mind blower of the day!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was good, it touched me in many ways but it was not her best. Blessings was better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For mothers and daughters everywhere, Anna Quindlen¿s One True Thing is an easy book to fall in love with. This novel describes and depicts the lives of two individuals in their struggle and journey of harmonious growth. The journey of Ellen and her mother is one that most of us know, or will come to know. Through tears and laughter, Quindlen touches us all through the novel¿s central theme ?what it means to have and be a mother. The relationship between a mother and her daughter is much like the connection between vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup; in many ways the two are different and do not need one another, but all the same, they complement each other to form a wonderful bond. In Anna Quindlen¿s One True Thing, the mother-daughter relationship is examined extensively. Quindlen focuses on issues such as the interdependency and role reversal that take place between a mother and her daughter during complicated life experiences. Empathy, sympathy, and the formation of a bond are all aspects of a mother-daughter relationship that come into effect when times are unfortunate. As complex as mother-daughter relationships tend to be, there is always a little indication of love and family ties and responsibility that hold the two together. Personality conflicts between mother and daughter can result in a loose, underdeveloped relationship. In One True Thing, Quindlen emphasizes the difference in Ellen and Kate's personalities through the use of flashback and simple examples of the two handling comparable situations in differently. The mother-daughter relationship portrayal in Hope Floats exemplifies a similar situation in which Birdee and her mother have extreme personality differences. Both pieces of work take place during life-altering struggles, and it is during these unfortunate times that discrepancies must be worked out, as mother and daughter must adjust to their newly conditioned lifestyles. In times of difficult, life-altering circumstances, it is possible for an interdependency to develop between a mother and her daughter. For example, in Hope Floats, Birdee has been humiliated by her husband, which results in a divorce, forcing her to return to live at her mother's house. Birdee and her mother are particularly dependent on one another; however, it is for diverse reasons that each individual's dependency subsists. Birdee needs her mother for the essentials in life, such as food and shelter, but more importantly, she needs her mother's support and sympathy. Her mother, on the other hand, simply needs someone whom she can take care, other than herself (Hope Floats). Similar to the situation in Hope Floats, Ellen and Kate of One True Thing are dependent of one another; Kate needs her daughter to take care of her as she struggles with her terminal illness, while Ellen consciously and instinctively needs the existence of a mother in her life. A significant aspect of the relationship between a mother and her daughter is the issue of bonding. Some mother-daughter bonds are established at birth and strengthened through time. Quindlen, however, focuses on the lack of closeness between mother and daughter, and the bonding that occurs as a result of forced time spent together. Bonding is indicative of many feelings, such as compassion, empathy, and the existence of both contentment and despair. In One True Thing, Ellen is forced to become her mother's caretaker. Although this causes conflicts with her personal desires, Ellen reluctantly remains faithful to her mother, and in due time, a closeness develops between the two. The initial occurrence of bonding between Ellen and Kate takes place when Ellen takes time to listen to her mother's stories. Shortly after, they watch movies together, which produces mutual tears, and in heart brings them closer together. Sympathy, an important factor in the process of bonding during difficult circumstances, strengthens mother-daughter relationships. Ellen b