Book Review: We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane

Title: We Only Know So Much
Author: Elizabeth Crane
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours
First line: At the moment, the Copeland family is a bit at odds.

Goodreads blurb: Jean Copeland, an emotionally withdrawn wife and mother of two, has taken a secret lover–only to lose him in a moment of tragedy that leaves her reeling.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.

The Copelands are one weird family – and Crane’s quirky writing style does a good job of capturing just how weird they are. This book is chatty, as if someone is telling you everything about this crazy, dysfunctional brood. Everything, that is, except the things we shouldn’t expect our unnamed narrator to know. They can’t know everything, right?

The writing style takes a little getting used to, and at first, I thought maybe it was one of those books that jumps and down and yells, “Look how clever and witty I am!” But it isn’t one of those – the writing actually fits the story very well.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of things that kept this book from being a win for me. First, the characters are so completely unlikable. They are quirky, yes, but mostly despicable. I couldn’t tolerate any of the women in the family – and Jean, especially, was horrible. What kind of mother rattles on about her lover’s suicide to her nine-year-old son, not every stopping to think what this information would do to a young boy’s mind?

The other thing that bugged me is that there isn’t really a plot. I can handle a book without a normal story arc if the characters are well-written and people I want to know about – case in point, Anne Tyler’s Digging to America. But if you combine very little plot with characters I pretty much hate – well, I’m not going to enjoy the book. However, since I enjoyed Crane’s writing style, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up one of her future works.

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13 Responses to Book Review: We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane

  1. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I do like quirky characters, even the ones you love to hate, but I’ve got to have plot to propel a story for me. I think I’ll skip this one. Thanks for the review.

  2. Meg says:

    Eek — unlikable characters are usually the kiss of death for me! If I can’t find at least one person to root for, the whole book loses its shine. The premise sounds interesting, but I think this would be a miss for me, too.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Meg – I did like the little boy character, but he wasn’t a major focus, and I kept being horrified by how his parents were ignoring and neglecting him!

  3. irene says:

    I don’t know.. except for the lover, sounds like my house… Ha Ha. Thanks for a great review and your honesty.

  4. Susan says:

    Yeah Carrie, I had pretty much the same reaction as you — little plot & didnt like the characters much. Here’s my review I struggled to stay with it. Luckily there’s more books in the sea — so to speak

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – I saw your review earlier, but didn’t read it because I was just starting the book. I can read it now!

  5. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    It seems like there are an abundance of books that wallow in dysfunction (which can be very readable) but then nothing HAPPENS. They just wallow and be weird. I need just a little forward motion, otherwise it just gets on my nerves.

  6. Pingback: Elizabeth Crane, author of We Only Know So Much, on tour June 2012 | TLC Book Tours

  7. Thanks for being on the tour!

  8. Pingback: Elizabeth Crane’s We Only Know So Much (2012) « Buried In Print