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Our Lady of the Prairie

2.97  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  86 reviews
A sharp and bitingly funny novel about a professor whose calm-ish midwestern life gives way to a vortex of crises—and her attempts to salvage the pieces without going to pieces herself

In the space of a few torrid months on the Iowa prairie, Phillipa Maakestad—long-married theater professor and mother of an unstable daughter—grapples with a life turned upside down. After f
Hardcover, 357 pages
Published January 23rd 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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librarianka I think it is a bit far fetched and Phillipa may simply have an overactive imagination however we know that she doesn't hundred percent believe it as …moreI think it is a bit far fetched and Phillipa may simply have an overactive imagination however we know that she doesn't hundred percent believe it as she creates different narratives about Bernadette's possible past. The fact is that she doesn't know and it is not resolved in the course of the book. Here are some reasons why she may believe that:
1. Bernadette is very secretive about her past, nobody, even her son, knows absolutely anything of it. She consistently refuses to talk about her past as if she had something to hide.
2. Bernadette has no family relations, nobody at all. Nobody knows where she came from.
3. She has a foreign accent that Phillipa cannot place. She thinks it is French and or German.
4. There is a chance that she is passing some old photo album she got at a church sale as her own family album making up stories as she lets Phillipa look at the photos.
5. Phillipa is Jewish and Bernadette doesn't like her.
6. Phillipa has an overactive imagination.(less)

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Average rating 2.97  · 
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Larry H
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
"So much of this life we spend holding ourselves together, when all we're really looking for is someone who might undo us completely."

Theater professor Phillipa Maakestad is finally settling into her life. Married for years to fellow theater professor Michael, they struggled for years with their daughter, Ginny, who suffered from mental illness and drug addiction. But now Ginny has finally stabilized, and is set to marry a young man she has known since childhood.

And then, much to Phillipa's surp
Jay Nicorvo
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this novel deigned to marry me about a decade ago, so I'm eagerly biased, but the reason she said "I do" was because of my very eager biases.

With that out of the way, OUR LADY OF THE PRAIRIE, a dozen years in the making, is the best, most ambitious fiction Thisbe Nissen has ever written — she's already written outstanding, amazingly ambitious fiction — and I've had the great pleasure, and greater privilege, of reading it all. I suggest you do yourself that same ple
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: firstreads
I won this novel in a goodreads drawing.

In the year 2000, a Jewish liberal Iowan woman has a mid-life crisis and goes to Paris. It's humorous, if you still think jokes about George W. Bush are a riot.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: must-read
When I picked this book up, I felt that it would not be my cup of tea. The start of the story felt a bit bumpy, and I couldn't wait to DNF the book. But, this book was featured in Chicago Review of Books's "Most Anticipated Reads of 2018", and I wanted to plough through the book and figure out what made it "anticipated". And I'm happy to tell you, that I started my January reading spree with a well-written book. A book with memorable quotes, so-close-to-reality characters and a very realistic pl ...more
Nov 16, 2017 added it
Shelves: netgalley
My guess is that we librarians will have some "unappealing narrator" conversations around this one. I thought Philippa navigated her mess of a life in a completely realistic - if not quite admirable - manner, but I can imagine some readers will have trouble getting over her alleged (and freely acknowledged) selfishness. The hardest thing about the book for me, personally, is that the main character has the name of a coworker of mine, the main character's love object has my nephew's name, and her ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc
Bitingly funny while also being very thought-provoking, Thisbe Nissen's OUR LADY OF THE PRAIRIE will appeal to fans of WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? who may identify with a protagonist who is at a crossroads and has to decide what sort of life she wants to lead.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sixteen years ago, in 2002, I read a wonderful novel by Thisbe Nissen (a name hard to forget) called, "The Good People of New York. Nissen wrote another novel, Osprey Island, which I also read, but don't remember how I felt about that one. She published a book of short stories, which I own as well. All I remembered was that I loved "The Good People of New York." From time to time I hoped to hear that Nissen had written another novel that would move me. That day has come. In the acknowledgement o ...more
For once, I left my judgmental self behind and tried to think of Philippa's mid-life crisis charitably. But she's way too dense and self absorbed to know anything that's going on around her. There's also my singular problem of not being very open to romance. Two people falling into bed doesn't equal love for me, and there's nothing in Philippa and Lucius's relationship that tells me it's anything more than a fling. And when Philippa moans about how she doesn't deserve Lucius (who looks like Ed H ...more
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
From the description, I thought I would really enjoy this book, but it was really kind of a trainwreck. I'm the same age as the protagonist Philippa, so it seemed like the kind of "hen lit" that I've aged into, and it was billed as a funny book. But it was rather depressing instead. Philippa is all over the map with her relationships, her family, and what she wants out of life -- fairly typical mid-life crisis, I guess -- but reading about how she copes with all of this got me down after a while ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Written with a keen wit and clever turn of phrase, Thisbe Nissen’s Our Lady of the Prairie looks at what happens when a 50 year old woman with a life that looks like it will finally be stable after years of upheaval with a very challenged daughter discovers the “love of her life” and jumps into an affair with all the enthusiasm of a teenager who has just discovered sex. Set in Ohio during the campaign for George W. Bush’s second term, the personal chaos that Professor Phillipa Maakestad creates ...more
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really liked this Our Lady of the Prairie, despite a couple problems I had with it.

Problems first:

1) This book felt SO long! For whatever reason it took me way longer to read than most 350 page books. This is terrible, I guess, since I liked being in the world of the book, but it felt like it dragged sometimes.

2) WTF was that dream sequence about? I had been forewarned by reading other reviews that a lot of people thought it was weird, didn't feel like it added much, and almost quit the book d
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful quirky, funny, and ambitious novel was a surprise delight from author Thisbe Niseen. The protagonist, Phillipa Maakestad, is a rich and truly human character. Nissen’s writing made me feel like she was a friend confiding in me her deepest secrets, all tinged with laugh out loud wit. She is one of my favorite characters of recent memory, and I was sad to turn the last page and say goodbye to her.

The story whirls around Phillipa’s family; the husband she just started cheating on, t
Emily Klein
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was so beautifully written - it was both a pleasure to read as well as this incredibly crafted story. Always finding the right balance of humor and seriousness, the main character's struggles to contain the increasingly out of control pieces of her life, set in the backdrop of the Bush/Kerry election. I so felt her "what if's"... I have to say that although I was unsure about the middle narrative at first it ended up being one of my favorite things about the novel and something that ch ...more
Feb 22, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I seem to be in the minority, but after the first twenty-five percent or so of this book, I just could not get into it. It was fine at first--the author has an excellent command of words and images. But the more I read, the more I did not want to read.

I liked the professor until she turned into a victim, and a selfish one at that. She actually returned home from a teaching job in another state the day before her daughter's wedding. Then spent that time telling her husband of many years that she
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
what a treat to read another thisbe nissen novel -- her characters are sharply drawn and achingly human. this story rings true as both a family drama and (near and far) historical fiction. and i am 100% in favor of magnificent perimenopausal heroines in contemporary fiction.
Mar 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
The main character Philippa was not only unlikeable but didn’t have an arc nor did she grow in any discernible way. The only possibly intriguing part about her mother-in-law’s mysterious origins were never really answered, and we’re left with Philippa ruining everything she has and altering her relationships all for completely selfish reasons, all while playing the victim.
May 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
I hated this book and I can't even remember why I stuck it out. It absolutely droned in many parts of the book and I had no sympathy for the main character, she was as self absorbed as a teenager. Awful.
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Just okay. I wasn't crazy about the protagonist and the WWII dream sequence was...weird.
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
OUR LADY OF THE PRAIRIE is a rich, beautifully written novel about Philippa, during a year of crisis and metamorphosis. Nissan begins the novel with unexpected tornado on the day of her daughter's wedding, just a symbol of the change that has blown up her complex life.

Like Joan Ashby, in THE RESURRECTION OF JOAN ASHBY, Philippa faces the loss of self within the complexities of parental love. The complicated relationship she has with her daughter, Gin, often creates an overwhelming pull which can
Dorothy Hodder
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love this midlife crisis-navigating character Phillipa, stubbornly constructing stories around everything author Thisbe Nissen throws in her path: "I'm no longer sure which lines here are ones I've drawn myself to connect the stars in that vast dark sky to try to make a picture . . ." [p 250]

Phillipa teaches musical theater at the University of Iowa. She feels she hasn't had a distinguished career and she's phoning her work in as she muddles through a perfect storm of life events, annoyed by
Keith Taylor
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Right in the middle of this book, a new story born from the imagination of a character in the novel, takes over for 60 pages or so. And then we go back to the narrative line of the novel. I just thought it was kind of wonderful! Below is a short review I wrote a few months ago
Nov 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-general
This novel starts off with the before, during and after story of protagonist Phillipa being spanked by her husband, after she confesses to cheating. Next, she starts to describe all the dainty details of her daughter's upcoming marriage ceremony. By page 45, I quit reading. As I saw it, since I wouldn't listen to a person in-person talk on and on in such an insipid way, why should I continue reading the insipid internal dialogue of a protagonist in a novel? Three stars for a neutral rating, sinc ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Tried..boy did I try. Wanted to like this, just couldn't.
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was ok

Literary novels about middle aged academics having affairs have never been something I was particularly interested in, but this one grabbed me—at first—with its strong narrative voice. The fact that the narrator is a middle aged Jewish woman theater professor also made this feel a bit fresher, plus the first half of the novel turns on her mentally ill daughter's marriage to an Amish man—so a lot of balls are being juggled, but I found it compelling enough.
Natalie Patchell
Tried to find cause with the main character but it wasn’t possible. She wasn’t a lady of the prairie... maybe a women escaping to a town named Prairie but she wasn’t a lady. Self absorbed, bored, and rather rude, the main character drove from her husband’s bed to a lover’s and then to her daughter’s new home with little regret for the havoc she created.

And if hadn’t been a book club read I would have thrown in the towel when the author placed us in the rambling, opinionated thoughts about the m
Feb 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
I was bearing up under the weight of an intensely unlikeable main character. After all, the writing is good and the characters interesting. When the story leapt into the past, however, with a new cast of characters, new plot line, new era, I just could not any more.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Try as I may, I could not force my way through the entirety of this book (only got to 35%). Phil, the main character, was just so unlikable. She’s self-absorbed like some sort of spoiled teen, when she’s actually a middle aged lady. I just felt bad for her husband and child.
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
You can read my review of this book in the February issue of The Brooklyn Rail here:
Erin Black-Mitchell
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
It was fine. Really just something to keep my going while running errands. There was a lot time devoted to the 2004 election, which just brought back bad memories of the 2016 one!
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it

The title of the book, Our Lady of the Praries, is the same as the name of a church in Iowa where the protagonist, Phillipa, lives. The title also could be a sarcastic description of Phil as she seems to be the stereotypical female martyr, a woman who gives up everything for the sake of others. We all know the type. Phil takes care of everyone, her daughter, her husband, her students at U of I, her mother-in-law all while keeping everyone at arm's length.

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Thisbe Nissen is the author of three novels, Our Lady of the Prairie (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), Osprey Island (Knopf, 2004), The Good People of New York (Knopf, 2001), and a story collection, Out of the Girls' Room and into the Night (University of Iowa Press, 1999, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award). She is also the co-author with Erin Ergenbright of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook ...more

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