Thank you to the wonderful people at Simon Books for gifting me this copy of Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead. All thoughts and images are my own.
Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
Laura hails from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, born into old money, drifting aimlessly into her early thirties. One weekend in 1981 she meets Jefferson. The two sleep together. He vanishes. And Laura realizes she’s pregnant.
Despite her progressive values, Laura raises Emma by herself in the same blue-blood world of private schools and summer homes she grew up in, buoyed by a host of indelible characters, including her eccentric mother, who informs her society friends and Emma herself that she was fathered by a Swedish sperm donor; her brother, whose childhood stutter reappears in the presence of their forbidding father; an exceptionally kind male pediatrician; and her overbearing best friend, whose life has followed the Park Avenue script in every way except for childbearing. Meanwhile, the apple falls far from the tree with Emma, who begins to question her environment in a way her mother never could.
Told in vignettes that mine the profound from the mundane, with meditations on everything from sex and death to insomnia and the catharsis of crying on the subway, a textured portrait emerges of a woman struggling to understand herself, her daughter, and the changing landscape of New York City in the eighties and nineties.
The setting of this book is so purely New York City, specifically the Upper East Side. If you want to read a book completely grounded in NYC, you should absolutely consider this one. I found the familiar setting to be one of the most charming and enjoyable parts of this read.
I liked (didn’t love, but liked) this book; I was happy to be taken along for the ride for 15 years of Laura’s life. This story was just as much about Laura’s coming of age as it was about Emma’s. Laura’s sheltered life did not allow (or force) her to grow up at any point, or to discover any passions, or find love. Emma’s presence did. And I loved that piece of this story; the idea that women can continue to grow, even after the ages in which typical coming of age stories are set.
However, I found the title to be misleading. While it is called Laura & Emma, the story is almost entirely about Laura. And, no offense to Laura, Emma is a way more interesting character. One thing that I loved about Caitlin Macy’s Upper East Side novel Mrs. was Macy’s ability to play with point of view in third person narrative and my favorite chapters were those that centered around a 10 year old child.
I think Greathead missed the chance to put us in Emma’s brain more frequently. We don’t get a taste of Emma’s true thoughts until late into her middle school years. They’re fascinating, so it left me wondering why she did not take advantage of Emma before that. In my opinion, that’s what is holding this book back from being great. Don’t underestimate the intrigue of a child’s mind.