Sunday, April 22, 2012

"The Red Book," by Deborah Copaken Kogan

Why am I and many other readers so drawn to fiction set in Ivy League colleges (or their prep school predecessors – witness the big bestseller of a few years ago, “Prep”)? Is it the same impulse that has made many readers through the years want to read about the upper class, the affluent -- a kind of wanting to learn how the upper crust (what we now call “the 1%") lives? Is it admiration, envy, jealousy, political criticism, outrage? Or something much simpler: wallowing in the opulent details of the lives of the rich? It is perhaps a win-win situation: We can enjoy the pleasures of the luxury that the affluent experience, but also take a kind of satisfaction in seeing that the rich have the same problems we all do: health problems, relationship problems, family problems, work problems, unhappiness, and yes, sometimes even money problems. (Meanwhile, as someone very concerned about the huge inequities in the distribution of income/assets in the U.S., a part of me feels guilty about enjoying reading about the lives of the rich…) (In a strange sort of way, this kind of novel is a successor to Edith Wharton’s far better written novels that I recently wrote about, her novels about the rich in New York 140 years ago.) This is not to say that everyone who goes to Ivy League colleges is rich, but most -- especially the ones written about in fiction -- are at least upper-middle-class. This is a long prologue to saying that as I expected from the description that I would, I thoroughly enjoyed Deborah Copaken Kogan’s novel, “The Red Book” (Voice/Hyperion, 2012), about a group of friends who graduated from Harvard and are now at their 20th Class Reunion. We learn about them through their surprisingly (unrealistically?) candid entries in Harvard’s alumni publication, the “red book,” and through a description of what happens during the days of the reunion in Cambridge; there is plenty of action, involving not only the four friends but their spouses, partners, children, friends, and acquaintances. The four main characters are Clover, Mia, Jane, and Addison. (This is another popular and seductive trope in current novels: the group of women friends and how their lives develop -- full of drama and crisis -- separately and intertwined.). Each character’s role is somewhat predictable: Addison is the spoiled rich girl, Clover the half-black scholarship girl, Jane the adopted Vietnamese war orphan, and Mia perhaps the happiest and most mainstream one, but frustrated not to carry out her dreams of a career in acting. There is certainly more than a hint of formula in this novel and in the characters; is this high-flown “chick lit”? “Ivy League lit”? “Girlfriends lit”? Whichever category we might put it in, the novel tells a good story (actually several stories), is expertly constructed, is reasonably well written, and definitely keeps the attention of the reader.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter