Clover, Addison, Mia, and Jane were roommates at Harvard until their graduation in 1989. Read more...
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Clover, Addison, Mia, and Jane were roommates at Harvard until their graduation in 1989. Clover, homeschooled on a commune by mixed-race parents, felt woefully out of place. Addison yearned to shed the burden of her Mayflower heritage. Mia mined the depths of her suburban ennui to enact brilliant performances on the Harvard stage. Jane, an adopted Vietnamese war orphan, made sense of her fractured world through words. Twenty years later, their lives are in free fall. Clover, once a securities broker with Lehman, is out of a job and struggling to reproduce before her fertility window slams shut. Addison's marriage to a writer's-blocked novelist is as stale as her so-called career as a painter. Hollywood shut its gold-plated gates to Mia, who now stays home with her four children, renovating and acquiring faster than her director husband can pay the bills. Jane, the Paris bureau chief for a newspaper whose foreign bureaus are now shuttered, is caught in a vortex of loss. Like all Harvard grads, they've kept abreast of one another via the red book, a class report published every five years, containing brief autobiographical essays by fellow alumni. But there's the story we tell the world, and then there's the real story, as these former classmates will learn during their twentieth reunion weekend, when they arrive with their families, their histories, their dashed dreams, and their secret yearnings to a relationship-changing, score-settling, unforgettable weekend.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-01-16
- Reviewer: Staff
As readers of photojournalist and author Kogan’s second novel learn, Harvard doesn’t content itself with the alumni mags and e-mails and letters other colleges make do with: before big reunions, it sends out a bound crimson book containing alumni updates on their lives, a reunion cheat sheet that gives Kogan both her title and structural framework. That exasperated sigh you hear, from those of us who didn’t go to Harvard, carries through the first pages, which feature the entries of Kogan’s four main characters: WASPy Addison Cornwall Hunt, an artist and trust funder living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; black, commune-raised Lehman Brothers managing director Clover Pace Love; Jewish ex-actress and stay-at-home mom Mia Mandelbaum Zane, splitting her time between L.A. and France; and Boston Globe journalist Jane Nguyen Streeter, born in Vietnam, raised in the American suburbs, and based in Paris. Their entries are obviously written to impress and to cover up; real life is what happens before and after, which, in this case, means these class of ’89ers’ 20-plus years of friendship and the three days that constitute their 20th reunion and the bulk of Kogan’s book. What starts out feeling like a marketing-driven “women’s” book—the perfect read for a mani-pedi—turns out to be a smart, funny, engrossing, and action-packed meditation on women’s lives, growing up, having and not having it all, class and the expectations that come with having gone to Harvard, love lost and found, infidelity and sexuality, and finally, loss and lying, especially to yourself. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Apr.)
An unforgettable class reunion
Best-selling memoirist Deborah Copaken Kogan (Shutterbabe) returns with her second novel, The Red Book, a lively story following several former Harvard roommates at their 20th reunion. Every five years, the infamous “red book” compiles classmates’ personally written recaps of tragedies, divorces, job successes, children and deaths in a bound red volume delivered to each alumni member. Its revealing entries begin each chapter, allowing readers to peer into the private lives of these former Harvard contemporaries.
Readers are introduced to headstrong Clover, a former Lehman banker who recently lost her job in the collapse of the company and is desperately trying to conceive with her husband. There’s flighty wild-child Addison—a former lesbian artist—whose tumultuous relationship with her trust-fund husband is hanging by a thread. Jane is a Korean war orphan who has recently lost not only her mother but also her first husband. And finally there’s Mia, a former star of Harvard’s stage who has now committed to being a full-time mother while married to a famous Hollywood director.
Fans of Mary McCarthy’s The Group will be drawn to these women (and the men who come in and out of their lives) as they struggle with their identities in their respective professional and personal fields. Here, the past affects the present, whether that means an arrest for unpaid parking tickets, furtively copulating with old flings, rediscovering your vocation or hiding financial collapse to keep up appearances. But if the characters in The Red Book learn anything, it’s that their secrets will bury them faster than they think.