Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: What I Thought I Knew

Summary: Alice Cohen was happy for the first time in years. After a difficult divorce, she had a new love in her life, she was rais­ing a beloved adopted daughter, and her career was blossoming. Then she started experiencing mysterious symptoms. After months of tests, x-rays, and inconclusive diagnoses, Alice underwent a CAT scan that revealed the truth: she was six months pregnant.

At age forty-four, with no prenatal care and no insurance coverage for a high-risk pregnancy, Alice was besieged by opinions from doctors and friends about what was ethical, what was loving, what was right. With the intimacy of a diary and the suspense of a thriller, What I Thought I Knew is a ruefully funny, wickedly candid tale; a story of hope and renewal that turns all of the "knowns" upside down. -- Penguin

When I decided to read WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW by Alice Eve Cohen, I wasn't entirely sure that it was going to be a memoir that I'd appreciate. Despite being chosen as the Winner of the Elle Magazine Literary Grand Prix as well as receiving rave reviews from Oprah Magazine, I had a feeling that it was going to be a difficult read for me for a few reasons. I was concerned that I would be bothered by some of the author's opinions about her pregnancy and her child, and to be quite honest, I wasn't sure I even wanted to go there.

I was completely and utterly wrong about this book. WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW was a terrific read that had me experiencing so many intense emotions including shock, anger, outrage, heartbreak, and finally admiration. Alice Even Cohen finds herself 44 years old and six months pregnant -- when she supposedly is infertile. To further complicate things, she has not-so-great insurance along with a very high risk pregnancy. And if that's not enough, she learns that he baby girl she is carrying just might be born with some male parts. Believe it or not, all of this action occurs within the first half of the book.

Once the baby arrives, Ms. Cohen has a whole new set of problems to face like a baby who is failing to thrive and seems to have a serious disability. In addition, Ms. Cohen is facing some very severe post-partum depression -- who could really blame her? As incredible as Ms. Cohen's story is, the real beauty of this book is the way she tells her story. This relatively short book (less than 200 pages) is indeed a little gem!

I was genuinely surprised by how much this book affected me. Of course, elements of Ms. Cohen's story are a mother's worst nightmare. And I couldn't help but put myself in her shoes while reading this book. I have no idea how I would have handled what Ms. Cohen experienced, and I don't even want to think about it. I just know that I commend her for sharing her touching story. But WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW wasn't all sad and depressing for me. I loved how much this book demonstrated the unexpected beauty of becoming a mother. Some of Ms. Cohen's prose about the love she shares with both of her daughters brought tears to my eyes.

I was impressed with Ms. Cohen's writing, but I was truly blown away by her honesty (and at times, brutal honesty) in telling her story. While I'm not entirely sure I would have handled some of her circumstances the way she did, I truly respected her opinions and couldn't blame her for her thoughts and actions. While there is no doubt that she had a fascinating story to tell, I still found her storytelling skills to be outstanding. She beautifully wrote her stranger-than-fiction story with the right amounts of poignancy and humor -- I honestly don't know how she managed that balance.

I really do think that WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW would make a marvelous book club selection. I think this book will resonate with every mother in some aspects, so for groups made up of moms (like mine), it would be perfect. Because of Ms. Cohen's honesty about her feelings towards her unborn child, there is bound to be some discussion about abortion and adoption. In addition, there is a reading guide available which will help keep the conversation on track. Some of the topics you might want to explore include motherhood, parenting, love, marriage, depression, law suits, and spirituality. I can assure you that the discussion won't be lacking for this book!

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW is an amazing story (and an amazing book) and I highly recommend it. I'm pretty sure that your heartstrings will be tugged -- just like mine! Make sure you stop by tomorrow because Ms. Cohen has written a wonderful guest post.

Thanks to BookSparks PR and the publisher for providing a copy of this book.


Veens said...

Oh well, just one word - Wow! Great review. I would definitely have all the fears you experienced before jumping into a novella like this. But it is so great to know that, it is such a gem. It is great to love a book, so unexpectedly. Adding this to my wishlist.

bermudaonion said...

I read this book last week and boy, what a story it is! I cannot imagine living through what Cohen did.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds like an amazing story!

Beth Hoffman said...

Wonderful review, Julie!

marthalama said...

I've been wanting to read this and your review made me want to even more. It sounds like an amazing story.

Carin S. said...

I loved this book too! I read it in one day. It was amazing, powerful, heartbreaking, and I am so glad I read it. Glad you enjoyed it too!

Amused said...

So glad to hear you liked this so much as this one is sitting on my bookshelf!

Carrie said...

Oh, no - I think I'm the dissenting opinion! I finished it day before yesterday, and, while I thought the writing was wonderful, I had a hard time with the author's response and attitude toward her pregnancy. It took me forever to write my review, which won't go up until December. I didn't know going in what it was about, or I would have probably known it wasn't a good fit for me.

Beth F said...

Holy cow, what a position to find oneself in her mid-40s. I can understand your initial hesitancy to read the memoir, but I'm glad you did because now I see I should read it too.

Amy said...

I loved your review, Julie. I've had this book on my tbr list and have wanted to read it for several months. I cannot imagine going through what Alice Eve Cohen did especially when she had so much going on in her life already even though many of them were positive. I can't imagine what an emotional rollercoaster she must have been on apart from the post-partum depression. I don't have children but I often think of how tough it must have been for my mom (and dad!) having 2 children when she's 25 and finding out 3 years later that one of them has a rare disability.

Alice Eve Cohen comes across in her posts as strong, out-spoken and witty which is especially why I want to read this memoir to find out how everything was resolved and where she is today.

Your reviews are always great! Thank you!
~ Amy