The main character, Ellen Gulden, is not immediately a sympathetic character. In fact, at the mid-point I am just beginning to see some redeeming qualities in her. Yet, I have been hooked from the beginning in spite of not necessarily liking Ellen, which made me wonder if the main character can be an unlikable person and the reader still enjoy the story.
I compared my experience reading One True Thing with another book I started reading recently - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I only made it a quarter through that one. All of the characters were so much without any redeeming qualities I couldn't stomach it. At one point I asked myself (aloud, yes, sometimes I talk to myself), "Why am I wasting my time reading this crap about these worthless people?" And there it ended, though I did read a summary of the book and concluded I had made the right decision to stop where I did.
Both books are critically acclaimed. But I've had very different experiences with each. Although One True Thing is more heavy subject matter than I typically like to immerse myself in, it is very real and well-written, whereas Freedom to me was very snarky and false, even misogynistic.
I'm curious to see as I finish One True Thing how I will ultimately feel about Ellen Gulden. But, one way or the other, I care enough that I will finish.