BETWEEN HERE & APRIL by Deborah Copaken Kogan

KoganThis month's EDIWTB book club pick was Between Here and April, by Deborah Copaken Kogan. It is about Lizzie, a mom and former war journalist in her 30s with two young daughters living in New York City with her husband. When the book opens, she has started having flashbacks about a classmate from first grade who disappeared a few months into the school year. At the time, Lizzie didn't investigate, or even question, her friend's absence, but when she starts experiencing panic attacks, she links them to thoughts about her friend's fate. The rest of the book explores Lizzie's investigation into her classmate April's death, her relationships with her husband and her mother, and an unresolved relationship with an Italian photojournalist with whom she used to be involved.

There is a lot in Between Here and April to recommend it. Deborah Copaken Kogan hits the nail on the head throughout the book in her depiction of modern marriage and childraising, including the neverending politics surrounding the division of labor in the household and the struggles facing working moms. I also found her descriptions of some of the mother-daughter relationships in this book to be very poignant, almost painful at times. The trust that young children place in their parents and their eternal belief that their parents are good people and that they love them – this theme comes up again and again in Between Here and April.

Here is a passage I liked a lot, from the beginning when Lizzie is waiting in the bathroom line at a theater:

And as I stood there in line and waited, mentally transforming each woman in front of me into a giant uterus, giving birth to other girls, other uteruses, telescoping out one by one from the original like the matrioshka dolls Tess used to love to split open and toss about the living room floor, heads rolling under couches, torsos under chairs, which every night I carefully gathered and reassembled, so that she could scatter them once again, I thought about all those mother and mothers-to-be, chugging along, finding detours around all those inconveniences and compromises that would have to be weighed and measured and fought over and swallowed while the men went about their business, zip-release-zip, unhampered and unfettered, along the conveyor belts of their lives.

Ultimately, though, I found this book to have a few flaws. First, almost everyone in the book has a mother who either killed herself, attempted to kill herself, suffered from serious depression, or died young (Mark, Renzo, Lizzie, April, Adele, even Lizzie's kids at one point…). The parallels between all of these motherless children seemed a bit forced to me. The theme was almost too relentless. If Copaken Kogan's point is that every mother experiences these feelings at some point, I think she could have made it with more subtlety.  

Second, there was just too much in here. Lizzie's awful experience in Bosnia seemed unnecessary, and the fact that she had never sought therapy for it (nor told her husband about it) was unthinkable. Add the bondage sex theme to the mix, along with its implications for male-female power in relationships, and it just felt like the author was trying too hard. Infidelity, depression, work-family balance, war, rape, marriage – that's a lot to cover in under 300 pages. The book would have been just as powerful without some of the additional layers.

All that said, I enjoyed reading Between Here and April. Copaken Kogan's statements about motherhood – some of the darkest and most honest out there – are moving, and make a strong case for paying attention to post-partum depression and depression in general.

Thank you again to Algonquin for supplying the books for this month's book club. I look forward to reading everyone's comments below!

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