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Like Normal People

Bender, Karen E.

209 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0395945151 / ISBN 13: 9780395945155
Published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2000
Condition: Very Good + Hardcover
From Black Falcon Books (Wellesley, MA, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

First printing, full number line. Signed by the author on a bookplate attached to the front endpaper: "Karen E. Bender." The author's debut novel. Quarterbound in tan paper-covered boards with a brown cloth, gold-lettered spine. Book is tight and unmarked; slight spine slant; back board flared; corners sharp; spine ends unbumped. The dust jacket is not price-clipped (original price $23.00); Brodart protected. Bookseller Inventory # 002686

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Like Normal People

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, Boston

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition:Very Good +

Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine

Signed: Signed by Author

Edition: First Edition

About this title


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.


Like Normal People is the story of Ella Rose and her family, a blue-collar clan living in Los Angeles. Ella is old and her mind is going. Ella's youngest daughter, Vivien, is exhausted and harried, full of concerns about her own family. Her oldest girl, Lena, is developmentally disabled and lives in a residential home called Panorama City. As the novel begins, Lena sets her room on fire and almost gets kicked out. When Ella drives over to try to resolve the situation, she takes her granddaughter with her, and while her back is turned Lena and the child take off. For a brief afternoon they are fugitives, riding the Los Angeles bus system, shoplifting--they call it "borrowing"--from drugstores, fantasizing about the house they want to live in on the edge of the sea.

In her first novel, Karen E. Bender skillfully renders mood with a few salient details. Here Ella and her husband Lou are depicted in flashback, moving to Los Angeles as newlyweds: "They began armed with a crooked, raw arrogance. Unpracticed, Ella copied Lou. It made them sleepless, talkative. She, too, threw trash out the car window, and the rhythm of her speech began to match his." Yet her writing can also fall into short, laboring metaphors that never quite gel: "Ella was waiting to understand the emotion within her, for her heart was restless, trying hard to beat with a feeling that she did not yet understand." Like unskilled actors who disrupt a film, such rough sentences pull us away from the lives Bender has created. --Emily White

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