This first novel by the author of the bestselling memoir Shutterbabe flirts with fiction and its opposite in such a way that one may be compelled, upon completion, to find out what is “true.” Though the nature of reality is open to interpretation, we have the internet, and in this case, it has partial answers. Elizabeth Burns, the protagonist, and Deborah Copaken Kogan, her creator, share some biographical details: Both returned from war zones to take up marriage and motherhood in Manhattan (Kogan’s career as a photojournalist was the subject of her first book); both worked in television; and, most strikingly, both of them had a best friend in first grade who was murdered by her suicidal mother (so claims Kogan on her web site). This last fact comes back to the adult Elizabeth during a performance of Medea and seems quite rightly to be the spectacular basis for a story. She talks her producer into letting her dig up whatever facts she can find and put them together into a documentary. Adele, the mother of Elizabeth’s best friend April, gassed herself and two daughters to death in the family car one night in 1972. Thirty years later, Elizabeth tracks down Adele’s shell-shocked former husband, her women’s studies professor sister, and, somewhat improbably, the transcripts of conversations between Adele and her therapist, which naturally make the reader privy to the long-dead woman’s deepest thoughts in her own voice. Elizabeth, meanwhile, becomes alarmed at the emotional parallels between her own ambivalence about marriage and motherhood and those of a suicidal murderess. Though parts of her novel resemble many recent titles on the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood for affluent urban women, Kogan’s material — including rape, war, suicide, and homicide — certainly ratchets up the consequences and thus the conversation beyond the usual playground chatter.
About the Author
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.