"With all of its invisible frustrations and sacrifices,
motherhood was also a remarkable mosaic-in-progress,
with…moments, like handmade tiles, painstakingly inlaid: up
close, just a jumble of colors, haphazardly placed in no particular
order; from ten feet back, so beautiful you could cry." The
problem, as Elizabeth Burns discovers during her journey into the
dark, messy, complicated heart of motherhood, is that few if any
mothers are able to achieve that distance, see that beauty, when
they're deep in the midst of their child-rearing years.
Elizabeth is, at least on the surface, a successful and happy
wife and mother to two young girls. She and her family live in New
York City, her daughters are happy and healthy, her husband is
involved with work he loves, and Elizabeth has even managed to
maintain some semblance of a career while raising the little ones.
But, behind closed doors, her identity as a wife and mother is in
Elizabeth feels torn between fulfilling her daughters' emotional
needs by staying home with them and pursuing her former career as
an international journalist, especially when her old boss and an
old lover try to convince her to return to Iraq on assignment. She
is growing increasingly frustrated with the long hours her husband
spends at work and his kinky sexual demands at home. And she has
started having these fainting spells…
With the help of a psychiatrist, Elizabeth realizes that her
panic attacks and fainting spells might have something to do with
the mysterious disappearance of April Cassidy, who was her best
friend when the girls were first graders in 1972. At the time,
six-year-old Elizabeth had only a vague idea of what had happened
to April; as an adult, however, she becomes haunted by the truth of
what actually transpired. April and her older sister were killed by
their troubled mother Adele, who also committed suicide.
Elizabeth decides to delve into the unknown story of April's
death, talking with friends and neighbors, and eventually probing
Adele's own psyche by reading transcripts of her sessions with a
psychiatrist. Ostensibly, she is making a documentary film about
the event, but as Elizabeth learns more about Adele's tragic
existence, she wonders if the story she's uncovering might not be
her own story as well.
Deborah Copaken Kogan, a former photojournalist and mother of
three, packs a lot into this provocative page-turner. Most of all,
readers will be struck by the ignorance, silence and denial that
surrounded women's issues, particularly postpartum depression, in
the 1970s --- and by how far we still have to go in learning about
and de-stigmatizing them today. Kogan writes about issues many
mothers have been affected by but have been too ashamed to discuss.
With the novel's outstanding book club potential, however, Kogan's
debut goes a long way toward bringing these issues out in the open
once and for all.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 22, 2010
Between Here and April