Book Review: What Remains by Carole Radziwill

December 6, 2012

Full disclosure. I learned about What Remains while watching the Real Housewives of New York. (Absorb this for a moment. Okay, let’s move on.) Carole is by far the most normal woman on the show, by which I mean she treats people with common decency and seems to have impeccable manners. She’s the Housewife I’d most like to have dinner with, unless that dinner was taking place on New Year’s Eve and it was time to get rowdy, in which case I’d pick Ramona… or Sonja. Let’s be real: you’d all pick Ramona or Sonja. But I digress. Carole dated John Kennedy’s cousin, and was besties with Carolyn. (She’s one of those not-normal, normal people.) I learned about her memoir and the events within the book from the show, and before I even considered reading it, I was scoffing. I haven’t taken a Real Housewife seriously as a person, ever, and her mere presence on the BRAVO network didn’t bode well for changing such impressions. Still, curiosity sparked as to whether the book was good, bad, or terrible (I had placed my bets somewhere in the latter category) and when a friend, and then another friend told me they enjoyed it, I inched closer to a copy. This is also Radziwill’s first published book, making her a debut author and (gasp!) a candidate for our review series. And while yes, we most commonly review literary fiction (please note, however, our own collection has a gorgeous nonfiction essay by Erica Sklar), after reading this book I needed the emotional cleanse of reviewing it here.

This is when I tell you I really liked this book.

Carole was a journalist for ABC and her writing is reminiscent of newsy prose. It’s succinct, easy to read, and her thoughts turn over beautifully. Considering how emotionally charged the subject matter — she lost her two best friends in a plane crash and then her husband to cancer within weeks of each other — Radziwill’s thoughts on cancer and loss are poignant without being preachy. Sure, there were moments at the start of the book that felt tinged with ego. The sense that as a reader I was receiving a nostalgic view of her upbringing and the start of her career in New York to enhance the effect of the drama that unfolds later. But soon I settled in with Carole, and really began to appreciate the emotional bravery of her story. The amount of loss Radziwill incurred is harrowing, and I applaud her for such a beautiful account of it. In fact, I’m slightly ashamed of how harshly I judged the book before starting. The fact of the matter is this, Radizwill’s memoir glitters and shines. It will make you cry. If there’s been cancer in your life, you must read it.


At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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