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We Only Know So Much

3.2  ·  Rating details ·  1,019 Ratings  ·  154 Reviews
A funny and moving debut novel that follows four generations of a singularly weird American family, all living under one roof, as each member confronts a moment of crisis in a narrative told through a uniquely quirky, charming, and unforgettable voice. Acclaimed short story writer Elizabeth Crane, well known to public radio listeners for her frequent and captivating contri ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Harper Perennial
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Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One hot mess. That’s the first thought that comes to mind. The story was told out of sequence; the characters proved unlikeable and sometimes odious; the entire family managed to engage in conversations without ever really talking about anything meaningful; relationships died faster than a daisy in the middle of a blizzard; the voice was quirky, at times eccentric, and it filled me up with about as much hope as a five car pile-up. But I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. I can’t adequately expla ...more
Jul 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, underwhelmed
Well, I know enough.
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
We Only Know So Much is a wonderful book, bursting with heart and wit. This is one of those books where you will laugh over and over because so much of the story of the Copeland family is so open and honest and human.

Crane was really effective in showcasing the concerns of each family member--Gordon, the loquacious, self-involved, deeply distracted father, Jean, the mother mourning the suicide of her lover, Priscilla, the bitchy daughter, trying to figure out what she's going to do with her lif
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've never had so much fun reading about such messed up people. Messed up people are always the most interesting (though I suppose everyone is messed up anyway and it is just where they are messed up that they are interesting), but it can sometimes be unpleasant to read about it. Interesting and pleasant are not the same thing. Crane balances wonderfully in this book. The characters go through some real bad times with their messed up selves, but I still found the book enjoyable to read. I have r ...more
Christine Palau
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My favorite type of book: funny, sad, super obsessive, dark and twisted, and so charming. I didn't want it to end. And in a way it doesn't just end. The P.S. is such a personal and honest account of the writer's background, her influences, and a little bit about the novel, the story behind it, from its inception at Yaddo to the changes from agent to editor to page. You get the sense that E. Crane is a very cool person, plus, she was on a DFW panel, which proves that she's special.

Jun 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
Add a star for not following the formula of adultery novels. Take away a star for the precocious kid who doesn't have words for all he understands; I wanted more from him than he was allowed in his story of not understanding what his mother told him and having that elementary school first love. Add stars for compassion for characters lacking self-awareness. Add two stars because her short stories have made me life-long loyal and this disconfirmed my hypothesis that people who can really do short ...more
Brandon Will
Sep 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
This novel shows familial struggles so well from inside all sides you get to thinking: man, why doesn't Jean leave her husband Gordon, they're just miserable and can't even relate to each other, they're so wrapped up in their own struggles -- and then you think yeah, they have kids, so it's complicated, and they did care for each other, it was a long, slow progression of getting to this place, maybe they can get out of it, but then just no, sometimes relationships outgrow their potential for pos ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: rumpus-books
I didn't hate this book, but I also didn't love it. It left me feeling "meh." There were parts that I really like. I liked Otis and his ill-fated love with Caterina, lover of jelly beans. I liked Theodore, and his relationship with Pricilla. I do think that much of this book is witty and funny. I'm just not sure what it's all supposed to add up to (or what we're to make of that move towards magical realism (maybe? I'm not even sure) at the end that seems to come out of nowhere. Really, no one wi ...more
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Cannot even express how much I enjoyed this writing style. It flowed so freely & fluidly. If not for the chapter breaks, I probably would have read this book in one sitting, that's how difficult it was to put down.

The story centers around the various members of the Copeland family. There's Gordon - the dad, a kind of know-it-all, although he means well; Jean - the mom, a good person but a little preoccupied with her own issues as of late; Priscilla - the bitchy fame obsessed daughter; Otis -
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book- reading about the Copeland family had me laughing, cringing and crying almost at the same time. This family is one at a cross roads- each for a slightly different reason- each wrapped up in their own personal drama that they don't see the turmoil in the lives of those around them. This first novel will be one that sticks with you and makes you want to spend more time with this cast of characters.

This is a book I recommend for any one who loves Wes Anderson's movies as it has
Jun 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is the worst book I've ever read.

My mom bought the book, read it, hated it, and gave it to me to read with the forewarning it was the worst book. I thought the premise seemed interesting and I'd read it. The premise might have been fine. The writing is so very, very terrible. Half of the book is in italics, half of the book is in list form. All of it is idiotic.

'Yesterday I looked into the eyes of a squirrel and I saw my dead lover, James, who said, Yes, it's true about heaven.'

That is not
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
a novel from a short story. and has wonderful letter to the reader and reading list and essay on the writing of the book. now for something completely different
ONE good thing about 15,000,000 new book titles

Yes, a 500% increase in books published from 2011 to 2012. And for nostalgia’s sake, in 2003 there were 300,000 titles published. One good thing about the huge amount of choice today is the prominence of fantastic new women authors. Sure there have always been some books written by women, and
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We Only Know So Much is a wonderful book, bursting with heart and wit. This is one of those books where you will laugh over and over because so much of the story of the Copeland family is so open and honest and human.

Crane was really effective in showcasing the concerns of each family member--Gordon, the loquacious, self-involved, deeply distracted father, Jean, the mother mourning the suicide of her lover, Priscilla, the bitchy daughter, trying to figure out what she's going to do with her lif
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Former Chicagoan Elizabeth Crane is just a little too good a personal friend for me to claim I could do an "objective" review of her newest book, last year's We Only Know So Much (BONUS: Listen to my 2007 podcast interview with Crane); but I wanted to get a mention of it up here anyway because I enjoyed it
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
We Only Know So Much tells the story of the Copeland family - a seemingly happy family of 6 comprising of four generations - all living in the same house. The story is told from each character's point of view, and they are presented, flaws and all, very humanly and honestly. The characters appear as stereotypes but as the novel progresses we get deeper insight into each of their lives, from nine year old Otis to ninety-eight year old Vivian, and the others in between.

The novel embodies what I di
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
Eh. The cover made me expect it would be barely disguised chick lit. But it was better than that. It was a portrait of all the people in one family. They didn't really seem to have a whole lot to do with each other, so it was more like a bunch of short stories about people who happened to be related. Which makes sense because the author says she always wrote short stories and when she tried to write a novel (I'm guessing her publisher asked her to do it), she didn't really know how. But that's b ...more
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads, adult
It takes a little time to get used to the writing style of this book. It has a first-person plural omniscient narrator (I had to look that up), with short, choppy, conversational sentences or half-sentences that might start with, "Okay, so..." This style of narration works for the book, though, which is an insightful look at six members of a family, ages 9 to 98. While they weren't necessarily likeable, there was never a character that I didn't want to revisit as the short chapters progressed. T ...more
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
I pulled this book off the "new fiction" shelf at the library, and ended up loving it.

Covering a month or 2 of time in the lives of the 6 members of the Copeland family, each person narrates chapters, so we get 6 different perspectives on their family, their lives, and their household. Otis (9), Priscilla (19), Jean (mom), Gordon (dad), Theodore (76, Gordon's dad), and Vivian (95, Theodore's mom).

I love the narration style and different voices. This is a regular odd family, everyone does truly c
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you are hoping for a well defined plot, this is not the book for you. If, however, you enjoy interesting characters who evolve, a unique voice, and well-crafted words, I think you'll like this as I did. I didn't love it, but it was a fun, quick read. I held off from a 5 star rating because I do like when characters find more redemption that these did, and I didn't care for some of the subject matter. Crane's voice is enviable though, which might have been what I liked the most about this book ...more
S.G. Wright
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
This novel wasn't for me. It's a quirky look at a family disconnected from one another, but it didnt seem to really go anywhere. I grew tired of the "Copelands." For more see my review at
Tina Hvitfeldt
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it

Really fun to read!
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good stuff. Highly recommend.
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, humor
For the majority of this book, all the characters (with the possible exception of Otis) are so self-absorbed that they are hard to like. Yet somehow I kept reading about this quirky family with its entanglements. I liked the use of the narrative "we" and the recognition that even an omniscient "we"can't know everything about everyone, can't report all angles on all characters.
May 30, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I struggled through four chapters and gave up. A weird, disjointed "story." More like a steam of consciousness narration. I'm sure there's a point to it eventually, but I didn't have the patience to dig it up.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Will work much better as a film.
Caryn Abramowitz
Oct 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, october-2017
Rounding up. I love the writing and the characters. The story is kind of basic and a little more dramatic than I like, but I'll definitely read more from her.
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
This is the October 2016 selection for the Willa Cather Book Club. This novel is a character study of a family who's in crisis but doesn't know it. This multi-generational family includes Great Grandmother Vivian, Grandfather Theodore, Gordon and his wife Jean, and their two children, Priscilla and Otis. It's a cast of characters that isn't living the American dream. Events start accelerating when Jean discovers her lover James hanging from his living room rafters with a note that simply states ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
I started reading this book with high hopes; although I read reviews and blurbs I am drawn to aesthetics and I loved the presentation.

On starting to read I was taken aback by the forthright and bolshy attack of the storyteller. Certainly different from my recent reads and I rather liked it. I too enjoyed the early stages of the book, getting to know the characters and their relationships.

Jean is a mother of two children, a tiresome teenager (Priscilla) and a nine year old boy (Otis). Her relat
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies

What would we do without the ill functioning family as we know it today? We'd certainly have much less material to draw from to create fanstastically entertaining stories that might just make you feel better about your own, or at least not feel like you are the only one.

Meet the Copelands. We have four generations of characters here ranging from matriarch, Vivian and her son, Theodore to his son, Gordon, and his wife Jean, and then their kids, Priscilla and youngest Otis.

Elizabeth Crane takes u
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Elizabeth Crane is the author of two novels We Only Know So Much (now a major motion picture) and The History of Great Things (Harper Perennial) and four collections of short stories: When the Messenger Is Hot and All This Heavenly Glory (Little, Brown) and You Must Be This Happy to Enter (Akashic Books), and Turf (Counterpoint). Her work has been adapted for the stage by Steppenwolf Theater and f ...more
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