One True Thing

by Anna Quindlen

Book Review

By Wayne Wilson

June 2002

For some time now I have enjoyed reading Anna Quindlen's syndicated column on the newspaper's editorial page. Sometime last year I discovered that she has published a few novels. One True Thing (Dell Publishing, 1995) tells the story of a successful young lady, a family crisis, and the subsequent fallout. Ellen Gulden started her writing career in high school when she won a statewide essay contest for her piece defending euthanasia. After college she had an excellent first job as a staff writer with a popular magazine based in New York City and seemed to be well on her way to a successful career and life.

A call came from her father that changed everything. He demanded that she quit her job, come home, and take care of her mother who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. While growing up she hardly even knew her mother, preferring instead the company of her father, an English professor.. She was more than a little insulted by the demand, but ended up being her mother's closest companion for the elder Gulden's last six months of life.

The autopsy revealed an overdose of the prescribed pain medications--who had administered them? Ellen knew that she had not. She had seen her father spoon feeding her mother's last meal of rice pudding but did not say anything about it to anyone, not even at the grand jury investigation into her mother's death where Ellen was the prime suspect.

Like Quindlen's other novels, One True Thing does not fit easily into a well defined category. The ending is challenging, surprising, and thought provoking. There are no heroes in her work, only people trying to live with themselves within human society.