We Had It So Good

We Had It So Good

A Novel

Book - 2011
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A generational novel which opens memorably in a fur storage house in Los Angeles with its American protagonist as a boy trying on Marilyn Monroe's coat. When he grows up, Stephen goes to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, and stays on to avoid the draft and Vietnam. He marries an Englishwoman, and they experience many of the things the baby boomer generation went through. Later the torch is passed to their children. In addition, Stephen's father Si makes a dramatic reappearance after Stephen's mother dies. This is a big, capacious novel, bursting with wonderful characters and ideas.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2011
ISBN: 9781451617405
1451617402
9781451617450
1451617453
Branch Call Number: F Gra

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jps0201 Sep 07, 2013

This novel had a tremendously authentic feel as it explores the internal and external emotional lives of a variety of family members from a variety of time periods. It rings true without dipping into sentimentality, and explores the many facets of love without becoming melodramatic. This was a great "ensemble cast" novel.

u
uncommonreader
Aug 01, 2012

Growing up in the 1970s. A story about family life and getting older. As usual, Grant's book rings true. Very good.

AnneDromeda Jul 18, 2011

<p>Since the economic downturn in 2008, there's a sense that quality of life for post-boomers in the West will never quite be what their parents or grandparents enjoyed. Most under 40 have confronted underemployment, dwindling pensions and a wounded public sphere, and there's a whiff of existential trepidation in the zeitgeist. Something's gone off-kilter with our story. We're no longer certain we'll get our happy ending.</p>

<p>It's rare, though, to find a narrative work of art that captures this cultural shift and what it's cost us on a personal level. Linda Grant's *We Had It So Good* does just that. Ostensibly, this novel gives us the story of the marriage of Stephen and Andrea. It follows the couple from their courtship in the late 60s, through having kids, establishing careers, and ultimately into late middle age. But Grant's eye for detail and narrative genius elevate the novel a notch, allowing it also to tell the story of the sliding shift in Western civilization from anti-materialist hippie ideals into the age of persuasion and mass commodification.</p>

<p>Much of the story's plot is told by Stephen to his kids in a series of mythologizing flashbacks. They're half meant as a vanity project, and half as another boomer attempt to create a solid identity out of a shifting life and community. In order to draw strong parallels between the narrative arc of Stephen and Andrea's marriage and that of Western society, Grant has created a colourful cast of characters who each embody some portion of what's driven society since the '60s. Many of these characters are given narrative rights within the story at some point, and the extra perspectives shed light on how Stephen and Andrea move from being students at prestigious English schools, to communal living, to owning a posh multi-story home in a gentrified London neighbourhood.</p>

<p>This tension between objectivity and myth-building drives the novel. All the main voices in the novel indulge in self-mythologizing, tying their particular story to whatever overarching social narrative best serves their purpose. As the personal narratives' integrity wear with use, a sense of unease besets the reader: If questionable motives and a lack of objectivity warp the most basic life stories, how can we be sure of anything we tell ourselves as a culture?</p>

<p>This sounds grim, doesn't it? In truth, *We Had It So Good* isn't always so dark, mostly because Grant has such profound empathy for her characters. Readers may not like them as people, but you have to respect them. After all, they're telling your story, too. This gentle handling lends the entire novel a poignant, epic feeling not unlike that evoked by the film *American Beauty* a decade or so ago. *We Had It So Good* is recommended to readers of character-driven literary fiction who relish a good family saga. It is especially recommended to those with a fascination for London and California in the 1960s.</p>

t
Tamster72
Jul 14, 2011

This is a fascinating look at the lives of a group of people from childhood into their early sixties. I got a glimpse of what it was like growing up in my parents' generation and an insight into how they think and why. I found it very slow to read in parts while other times I couldn't put it down and some parts hit very close to home. I wish I could've read this book about twenty years ago.

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AnneDromeda Jul 18, 2011

<p>Since the economic downturn in 2008, there's a sense that quality of life for post-boomers in the West will never quite be what their parents or grandparents enjoyed. Most under 40 have confronted underemployment, dwindling pensions and a wounded public sphere, and there's a whiff of existential trepidation in the zeitgeist. Something's gone off-kilter with our story. We're no longer certain we'll get our happy ending.</p>

<p>It's rare, though, to find a narrative work of art that captures this cultural shift and what it's cost us on a personal level. Linda Grant's *We Had It So Good* does just that. Ostensibly, this novel gives us the story of the marriage of Stephen and Andrea. It follows the couple from their courtship in the late 60s, through having kids, establishing careers, and ultimately into late middle age. But Grant's eye for detail and narrative genius elevate the novel a notch, allowing it also to tell the story of the sliding shift in Western civilization from anti-materialist hippie ideals into the age of persuasion and mass commodification.</p>

<p>Much of the story's plot is told by Stephen to his kids in a series of mythologizing flashbacks. They're half meant as a vanity project, and half as another boomer attempt to create a solid identity out of a shifting life and community. In order to draw strong parallels between the narrative arc of Stephen and Andrea's marriage and that of Western society, Grant has created a colourful cast of characters who each embody some portion of what's driven society since the '60s. Many of these characters are given narrative rights within the story at some point, and the extra perspectives shed light on how Stephen and Andrea move from being students at prestigious English schools, to communal living, to owning a posh multi-story home in a gentrified London neighbourhood.</p>

<p>This tension between objectivity and myth-building drives the novel. All the main voices in the novel indulge in self-mythologizing, tying their particular story to whatever overarching social narrative best serves their purpose. As the personal narratives' integrity wear with use, a sense of unease besets the reader: If questionable motives and a lack of objectivity warp the most basic life stories, how can we be sure of anything we tell ourselves as a culture?</p>

<p>This sounds grim, doesn't it? In truth, *We Had It So Good* isn't always so dark, mostly because Grant has such profound empathy for her characters. Readers may not like them as people, but you have to respect them. After all, they're telling your story, too. This gentle handling lends the entire novel a poignant, epic feeling not unlike that evoked by the film *American Beauty* a decade or so ago. *We Had It So Good* is recommended to readers of character-driven literary fiction who relish a good family saga. It is especially recommended to those with a fascination for London and California in the 1960s.</p>

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