On the surface, the Copelands might appear a typical American family that lives in a small, Midwestern town. But in the hands of author Elizabeth Crane (When the Messenger is Hot) their worlds are skewed by the intrusive absurdity and cruelty of life in the novel, We Only Know So Much. Thus, the family members are challenged by things they don't understand. The mother is numb from the suicide of her secret lover. Her unaware husband, a walking Wikipedia, fears he might be losing his memory. Their daughter, an angst-ridden 19 year-old, longs for a "career" on reality TV. And their 9 year-old son is convinced he must choose between his love of crossword puzzles and girls. Add a grandfather suffering the tangled forgetfulness of Parkinson's disease and his mother, a 98 year-old matriarch whose sharp, keen mind enables her to still dream big, and what emerges is an eccentric cast of characters whose lives are rife with conflict.
Crane is an accomplished, prolific short story writer. In this, her debut novel, she makes painful issues accessible via a clever, original narrative voice that allows the reader to peek inside the head and heart of each character. By accentuating the offbeat flaws and failures of those who populate the novel, Crane reveals a dark, yet endearing sense of humanity as the individual and collective stories unwind at a descriptive, unhurried pace. In the end, the "ordinary" aspects of living life, however dysfunctional, escalate until the novel reaches thought-provoking conclusions about the meaning of life.
We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane
Harper Perennial, $14.99, Trade Paper, 9780062099471, 304 pp
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
Please note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/22/12), click HERE.