Title: Laura & Emma
Writer: Kate Greathead
Publishing House: Simon & Schuster
Date of Publication: March 13th 2018
Ratings: 4 stars
‘’You’re not supposed to cry when someone gives you a present.’’
Although I’m not actually a reader of what I call ‘’Family Conflict’’ novels, I cannot say ‘’no’’ to stories whose protagonists are single parents. I consider the women and men who decide to raise their children without a partner’s help, overcoming any social or financial obstacles, to be the bravest of the brave. When the novel is also set in New York, I’m bound to read it. And I was not disappointed.
The story centers around Laura, a bright, bookish young woman, who decides to let her defences down for a single night. The result is a baby girl, Emma. Laura decides to raise her daughter alone, since the father is a no-no case and from 1980 until 1995, we follow her development as a woman and a mother, we witness how the relationship with Emma evolves, we are a part of her dilemmas, hopes and frustrations. And let me tell you, ‘’frustration’’ isn’t an adequate word to describe the amount of idiocy of the people around poor Laura. Through her eyes, we also observe the changes not only of New York but of a whole era.
While the focus is on the mother-daughter relationship, Greathead enriches her story with a number of issues, controversial and thought-provoking. New York is always a character in very novel set in this fascinating city, but I was very intrigued by the writer’s choice to place her plot in the special, turbulent decades of the 80s and the 90s. The HIV nightmare and the witch-hunt against certain groups of people. The impact of the World Trade Center, the various stereotypes and discriminations concerning the upper and middle classes and the diversity of the people who populate New York. In my opinion, Greathead succeeded in presenting a well-written, balanced social commentary, especially on the social conventions that dictate how a single mother is basically an incomplete person and the difficulty of a large number of people to accept that not all of us need a partner or a husband. That some of us don’t consider romance and sex as necessary in order to live a meaningful, useful life. More often than not, life provides many advantages to those who refuse to place themselves under the yoke.
…Can you tell I am frightfully against the idea of marriage? But anyway…The dialogue is vivid, the narration flows as we are given snippets of daily life, with an array of colourful (but highly unsympathetic people) and even more colourful incidents. Those who claim that this is a WASP novel of New York elite? Well, they probably watch too many bad TV series. Projecting our own bias into our understanding of a story is simplistic and juvenile. The problem is we never bother to look deeper into a situation and we think that placing labels on everyone is enough to get it over with. This is a major theme in this novel.
I fully sympathised with Laura. She doesn’t accept the social restrictions and the etiquette of the so-called upper class. However, she doesn’t quite fit anywhere and her courage to stand up to her family’s questionable values is limited. But she tries, at least. She is a very good mother than noone seems to appreciate and I admit I wanted her stronger. I wanted her to punch all of her kin on their turned-up noses and tell them what’s what. Including her daughter who is one of the most revolting children I’ve seen on page. And believe me, I’ve had my full share of spoiled tiny humans over the years. Despite Laura’s efforts, Emma is selfish, spoiled, ungrateful, mean and never recognises her mother’s sacrifices for her. Much like her grandmother, actually.
This is a finely written novel on the notion of motherhood, the sacrifices, the joy and the fear, the unique bond between a mother and a daughter with all the ups and downs. A novel of character, elegance, of sadness, yet hopeful and vaguely optimistic. The only weakness? The lack of compelling characters with the exception of Laura. Definitely a recommended read and bound to be one of the most beautiful debuts of 2018.
Many thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.