STARRED REVIEW
April 05, 2016

A mother and daughter’s reckoning

By Elizabeth Crane
Elizabeth Crane’s latest novel, The History of Great Things, is a poignant dual narrative featuring a mother and daughter whose disparate paths ultimately prevent them from ever truly understanding each other.
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Elizabeth Crane’s latest novel, The History of Great Things, is a poignant dual narrative featuring a mother and daughter whose disparate paths ultimately prevent them from ever truly understanding each other.

For Crane’s two heroines—ambitious Lois, who speaks from beyond the grave, and her only child, Elizabeth, who shares a name with the author—untangling the knots of their messy lives means sifting through decades of memories, both shared and separate. These include the Great Depression and Lois’ Midwestern youth, the early days of Lois’ first marriage, and the turmoil of Elizabeth’s childhood and adolescence as she copes with her mother’s absence.

A gifted musician and aspiring opera singer, Lois feels trapped by the soul-numbing domesticity prescribed to women of her generation, and she doesn’t hesitate to ease her unhappiness by sacrificing her daughter, whose birth has cast her ambitious mother’s dreams asunder. While many women of her era would have accommodated a passion for music by joining the church choir, compromise is not in Lois’ vernacular. Her pursuit of her career comes at the detriment of her soon to be ex-husband and daughter.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s problems are rooted in the perils of self-medicating with alcohol, which she first turns to as a way to escape her pain and anxiety as a teenager as she shuttles between Iowa and New York City. As an adult, she has difficulty establishing a healthy relationship.

Alternating between laugh-out-loud humor and heart-rending melancholy, Crane gives us a mother and daughter who never quite grasp each other’s life stories, but who find truth through unconditional love.

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The History of Great Things

The History of Great Things

By Elizabeth Crane
Harper Perennial
ISBN 9780062412676

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