Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (March 13, 2018)
Description from the publisher
A tender, witty debut novel about a single mother raising her daughter among the upper crust of New York City society in the late twentieth century from a nine-time Moth StorySLAM champion.
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.
Enter: Emma.
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. Laura & Emma is an acutely insightful exploration of class and family warfare from a new author whose offbeat sensibility, understated wit, and stylish prose celebrate the comedy and pathos that make us human.

Going into this book, I must admit that I was wary because I'm not usually a fan of introspective female narratives. Instead, I found myself glued to the pages of this deep dive into a fascinating life of a square peg in the round hole of wealthy New York society. 
Each chapter covers a year, starting with the fateful year of 1981 when Laura becomes pregnant with Emma. The chapters are then broken into small vignettes, that are addictive as candy. Greathead has amazingly astute observations of things that can seem insignificant, but paint such a detailed portrait of life. Stories of her misguided friendship with the pediatrician, her best friend, her upper crust WASP caricature of a mother, dates gone wrong, sister in law dynamics, school mom drama, and preteen drama all struck a chord. When Emma is excited about her new school but isn't responding to the adults with the right level of enthusiasm:
"One of the more exhausting aspects of getting older was having to act like an adult. Pretending to like people you couldn't stand, speaking for the sake of filling a silence, smiling when you felt like crying."
These episodes are witty, funny, fraught with tension and quite sad, in equal measure. Laura's privilege blinds her to any real self awareness, or awareness of the lives of others, which makes for so many quirky moments that can go in unexpected ways. One might find her infuriating, but I couldn't help but root for her to triumph in the end. 
"Life hadn't required Laura to navigate unknown territory on her own, and on the few occasions over the years when she had taken the initiative to do so had all been very empowering."
The author's uncanny ability to convey authentic dialogue and such genuine details about life reminds me a great deal of Curtis Sittenfeld's writing, one of my all time favorite authorsThe prose on the agony and ecstasy of motherhood and adolescence rings so true. If you enjoy character driven, fly on the wall, hypnotically written episodic stories, I would HIGHLY recommend Laura and Emma. 
Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!


  1. I was thinking of using one of my Audible credits on Laura and Emma -- this review seals the deal, especially with the comparison to Curtis Sittenfeld! Thanks!

    1. Yay! I hope you enjoy it, can't wait to hear your thoughts :)

  2. Great review, Andrea. I had been a little nervous about this one, too. The vignette description is what did it for me, but then I actually ended thoroughly enjoying that and the year-by-year journey was also fun. You're so right, Greathead did do a wonderful job with dialogue.

    1. Yes, vignettes can = zero plot, which would normally be a turnoff for me - but I was totally engrossed!