The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan
Deborah Copaken Kogan recently published a startling essay on the sexism she encountered in marketing a memoir she wrote about being a war photographer. The book was called Shutterbabe, and I think that title says it all. If this novel hadn’t been on my reading list before I read that essay, I would have added it then.
The title, The Red Book, refers to a Harvard alumni publication in which former students brag about their accomplishments from the past five years. The novel has an interesting format, alternating between entries from the Red Book for each character, and then telling the story of their 20th reunion. The main characters are four women who were roommates in college and have kept in fairly regular contact. Addison is an old-money prep school legacy, an unsuccessful artist in a bad marriage raising her kids on her trust fund. Jane is a war reporter based in Paris with a young daughter. Mia is a frustrated actress married to a successful director/screenwriter with several kids. And Clover is a former hippie child turned ousted banking executive who’s trying to concieve.
This book reminded me a lot of Motherland, another novel I read recently about privileged women around age 40 with children and troubled marriages. Motherland focuses more on the comedy, while The Red Book is more dramatic or tragic, with funny moments. Of the two, I think I prefer The Red Book. Adultery is a major theme; the only couple in the book that doesn’t struggle with it is the one with the worst relationship of all. That’s kind of depressing. There’s a strong message that says carpe diem, encouraging the characters, and through them the readers, to hold on to the dreams and aspirations they had when they were young. Kogan’s sentences and dialog are sharp, perceptive and wise. The book was a pleasure to read.