13 January 2009
I am not a fan of heavy-handed fiction.
I started the novel Between Here and April, by Deborah Copaken Kogan, and was completely sucked in before I knew it was happening. It's got a compelling opening: Elizabeth Burns, mother of two little girls, is at a production of the play "Medea" with her husband (one of their few nights out) when something about the play's plot of Medea killing her children trips a wire in her memory. Suddenly remembering her best friend April, and how she abruptly disappeared from the first grade, Elizabeth passes out.
She eventually tracks down what happened to April (and her sister, and her mother), and as a former journalist, sets out to make a documentary about the tragedy, while dealing with her own issues with marriage and motherhood. I won't lie to you: there's something compelling about the whole novel, and there were many bits I really found interesting (even, particularly, when they had nothing to do with the plot). Consider:
"Because I'd waited for Mark outside the theater before the play, instead of going to the bathroom as I'd needed, I spent intermission waiting my turn to use one of the three stalls available, watching the men move in and out of their facilities with the efficiency of cars on an assembly line. I pictured the inside of their bathroom, the wall of urinals like stops on a conveyor belt, the swift zip-release-zip motion of fingers and genitals, the hands washed and dried or perhaps not, with nary a glance in the mirror, while on our side precious time was lost to spreading toilet paper over seats, pulling down hose, hiking up skirts, tugging on tampons, locating flushing mechanisms, pulling up hose, straightening our skirts, and fidgeting with locks which never seemed to want to close...
I thought about all those mothers and mothers-to-be, chugging along, finding detours around all those inconveniences and compromises that would have to be weighed and measured and fought over and swallowed while the men went about their business, zip-release-zip, unhampered and unfettered, along the conveyor belts of their lives." (p. 4.)
Now that's an interesting, thoughtful passage, and the book was worth it for moments like that. Somewhere, though, it went off the tracks, and became too heavy-handed; of course the mother of her friend who disappeared had had a male psychiatrist who had just put her on pills; postpartum went undiagnosed in several cases; there's a rape involved. It seemed odd that an author who had such a light touch (while making a heavy point) with the scene quoted above needed to throw in so many tragedies to make this a serious novel. I'd still recommend it; it was still well-written. But at points I found myself thinking, okay, now, this is getting a "little too Jodi Picoult." And that's NEVER a good thing.