Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan
Clover, Addison, Mia, and Jane were roommates at Harvard until their graduation in 1989. Clover, homeschooled on a commune by mixed-race parents, felt woefully out of place. Addison yearned to shed the burden of her Mayflower heritage. Mia mined the depths of her suburban ennui to enact brilliant performances on the Harvard stage. Jane, an adopted Vietnamese war orphan, made sense of her fractured world through words.
Twenty years later, their lives are in free fall. Clover, once a securities broker with Lehman, is out of a job and struggling to reproduce before her fertility window slams shut. Addison’s marriage to a writer’s-blocked novelist is as stale as her so-called career as a painter. Hollywood shut its gold-plated gates to Mia, who now stays home with her four children, renovating and acquiring faster than her director husband can pay the bills. Jane, the Paris bureau chief for a newspaper whose foreign bureaus are now shuttered, is caught in a vortex of loss.
Like all Harvard grads, they’ve kept abreast of one another via the red book, a class report published every five years, containing brief autobiographical essays by fellow alumni. But there’s the story we tell the world, and then there’s the real story, as these former classmates will learn during their twentieth reunion weekend, when they arrive with their families, their histories, their dashed dreams, and their secret yearnings to a relationship-changing, score-settling, unforgettable weekend.
I’m ambivalent about this book. This is not the usual for me, so bear with me while I try to make some sense of my own thoughts.
The premise, I think, is fantastic. A bunch of Harvard alumni coming together for their twentieth reunion, bringing with them their lives, loves, children, and emotional baggage. It could have been a profoundly moving book, but somewhere in there it began to lose some of its wit and spark. I think the main problem is that the characters are all quite unlikeable. It seems like the author wanted to reduce them down to the lowest denominator, making them babbling idiots. I understand that this might just been the point the author was trying to make, but, if so, it was not executed as well as it should have.
It seemed almost childish the way Ms. Kogan fixated on the sex lives of her creations. I get it, sex is important, but I expected something a bit deeper, more meaningful than parents freaking out over their teenage children having sex. I think there are more important things to write about. I respect a well crafted, necessary sex scene, but not all of the ones in this book fit that criteria.
And see, the thing is, that there were many nice moments in the book. Some really pretty phrases that struck a chord in me, which makes it even worse, because this book had real potential. It’s frustrating because I would like to recommend it, for those phrases, and those moments, but they’re in the middle of all the rest. Oh, and the last line is cringe worthy in all its clichéd glory.
I guess, all I can say is if you have time to spare, this might not be a bad choice.