Laura & Emma: A Novel by Kate Greathead


Laura was envious of others’ accounts of struggle, which were recalled with a certain fondness. It had been an adventure, the thrill of the hustle;  they’d chased a dream against the odds, and now they were living it.  She could only imagine the pride of being personally responsbile for everything one had- professional success,  friends, apartment- and being able to trace all this back to hard work. Knowing that everything in their lives wasn’t a given, that it all could have gone a different way.

Laura comes from money, she never thought she’d have a child but a one night stand changes everything. Laura isn’t the most passionate of women, sex seems more like a thing to just get through. It certainly isn’t the center of her life. She can just get rid of the problem. Reading a magazine an idea strikes her, she can be a Supermother, one who doesn’t need a man! Raising a child without a father, it’s just what she does with her eccentric family and the guidance of Dr. Brown. For a woman who choses to be ‘progressive’, Laura is uptight. Emma is the light in the novel, constantly at odds with her mother. Laura knows her daughter isn’t the right fit for the “Winthrop Way”, her ‘inappropriate’ daughter, creating a drawing of a man fully in the nude. Emma’s actions always seem to get under her mother’s skin, a proper woman.

The fun of the novel comes from Emma, her untamed spirit, her funny comments and actions. She doesn’t know  the truth of how her mother got pregnant, and her Bibs (grandma) assures her she was conceived with Swedish seed, because isn’t that more exciting? Laura wanted to raise her daughter as the Supermother she imagined that day, so long ago when she decided to not abort her. Beyond being a single mother, she isn’t exactly living an overly liberal life and certainly not one of struggle. She is a wealthy woman who wants to be normal, like the rest of us, but there is something annoying rather than nobel about it, considering Emma ends up in the same world. Emma is born more progressive and free anyway, compared to the stuffy world she grows up in, as she says her mother often tells her ‘less is more’ about the way she navigates life, but Emma really can never be ‘less’.  Once she hits junior high, anger is born and aimed at her mother. The reader rushes through each year, towards the end Emma finally goes to a boarding school aimed more towards the ‘individual’ and Laura is on her own again. They have discussions on the phone and like many mothers she realizes all Emma wanted was a normal family, maybe… whatever that entails.

I never warmed to Laura, for someone so focused on living a life completely different from how she was raised, it seems it was already too ingrained in her. Bibs was fun, and a bit obnoxious. The storyline with Dr. Brown was interesting considering the times, but he is gone too soon. I feel the way the years are presented is a little too rushed for me to get as involved in the characters as I wanted. Emma drives the story on, I just wish Laura was half as interesting as her daughter. The ending… is it an ending?

I’m curious of what other readers will think of this novel, there were funny moments, I laughed when Emma asks if her mom is glad she doesn’t have brown hair like hers as she is blonde instead, because it’s better.  ‘Maybe it’s Maybelline’, it takes you back to the 80s. The novel feels more like hanging out with a single mother and her daughter for a while, nothing big happens, it’s all just small quiet moments. I’ve grown up with friends of single mothers and their lives were nothing like this, but they didn’t come from wealth and comfort.


Publication Date: March 13, 2018

Simon & Schuster


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