Like Normal People by Karen Bender

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Karen Bender's powerfully affecting first novel has garnered remarkable early attention. Portions of the novel have been published in THE NEW YORKER, GRANTA, and STORY magazine. An excerpt chosen for THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES by Annie Proulx was recorded by Joanne Woodward and aired on NPR's SELECTED SHORTS.
A tour de force of literary craft and emotional resonance, LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE charts a family constellation that revolves around an off-kilter center: Lena, who is forty-eight but mentally locked in childhood. Moving deftly between present and past, the novel follows Lena's day-long escape from her residential home with her troubled twelve-year-old niece. While this odd couple takes refuge on a honky-tonk southern California beach, Lena’s widowed mother, Ella, goes in search of them. In the process, Ella relives her own life's dreams and disappointments: her marriage to a sweet, loving shoe salesman; her discovery of Lena's handicap and her aching attempts to give her daughter a "normal" childhood. For so long, Lena has been the focus of Ella's world. When Lena at last finds approximate normalcy -- by marrying a man much like herself -- Ella must contend with letting her daughter go.
Covering three entire lifetimes in the course of one day, LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE is tender, often hilarious, and deeply moving. Bender brilliantly enters into the consciousness of three women at very different stages of life, each on a private search for love and acceptance. LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE is a novel about desire, about what constitutes normality, and, most poignantly, about the ways in which a family finds its strength in the face of adversity.

About Karen Bender

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Karen E. Bender's first novel excerpts have been published in THE NEW YORKER, GRANTA, and STORY magazines. The chapter "Eternal Love" was chosen by Annie Proulx to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1997, and was read by Joanne Woodward to a sold-out crowd at Symphony Space in New York; the recording of that reading aired on NPR's SELECTED SHORTSS. Bender also received a prestigious Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award based on a draft of this novel, and it was recently optioned for TV movie development. Picador will publish the novel in England. Bender's fiction has appeared in the IOWA REVIEW and the KENYON REVIEW and has been reprinted in PUSHCART PRIZE XVIII and other anthologies. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she lives in New York with her husband, the writer Robert Anthony Siegel, and their son.
Published January 1, 2000 by Picador. 288 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Like Normal People

Publishers Weekly

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Shelley, Lena and Bob, all equally limited in their understanding of the world but eager for experience, encounter tragedy, which Lena cannot comprehend and Shelley cannot move beyond.

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London Review of Books

Over the course of the day, during which Lena keeps expecting her husband to appear for their wedding anniversary and Shelley explores a new identity as a sexual being in an adult world, Ella, waiting at Panorama Village, revisits her life and wonders who she may become.

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