Summary: When a deep-seated memory suddenly surfaces, Elizabeth Burns becomes obsessed with the long-ago disappearance of her childhood friend April Cassidy. Driven to investigate, Elizabeth discovers a thirty-five-year-old newspaper article revealing the details that had been hidden from her as a child—shocking revelations about April's mother, Adele. Elizabeth, now herself a mother, seeks out anyone who might help piece together the final months, days, and hours of this troubled woman's life, but the answers yield only more questions. And those questions lead back to Elizabeth's own life: her own compromised marriage, her increasing self-doubt and dissatisfaction, and finally, a fearsome reckoning with what it means to be a wife and mother. -- Algonquin Paperbacks
A few months ago, I reviewed a book of essays about being a mother called HELL IS OTHER PARENTS AND OTHER TALES OF MATERNAL COMBUSTION (my review) by Deborah Copaken Kogan. I enjoyed the book and knew that at some point, I wanted to read Ms. Kogan's other books. So when Gayle at Everyday I Write the Book Blog chose BETWEEN HERE AND APRIL as her January Book Club selection, I jumped at the chance to read it! Boy am I glad I did.
I think Gayle picked a great book for her first book club of 2010! The cover of the paperback has a quote from The Washington Post Book World which reads, "The perfect book club book." I couldn't agree more. This book captured my attention from the very beginning; and as I read it, I truly wanted to talk with someone about the story. I just found the book to be so honest about motherhood.
I'm not sure if this book affected me more because I'm a mother, but I imagine that it probably did. Elizabeth is a mother of two children and about the same age as I am. I'm not going to go so far as to say that I had many of the same feelings that she did, but I could relate to her (and I know that many women will be able to see parts of themselves or their friends in Elizabeth's character.) Truth be told, I just felt so bad for Elizabeth. She seemed like she was truly lost in life and especially miserable in her marriage (and I definitely couldn't blame her -- her husband definitely was not attentive to her needs.) At the beginning of the novel, Elizabeth was so desperate to hold her marriage together that I actually found it painful to read about the lengths she'd go to keep her husband happy.
When Elizabeth started fainting and suddenly thinking about an event that happened almost 35 years ago, I pretty much knew that Elizabeth was in pain and needed to work through some major issues. As the story progresses, Elizabeth starts investigating the details behind the disappearance of her best friend April when the girls were six years old. She uses her past skills as a wartime journalist to try to find out what really happened, and she learns that April's mother Adele killed her two daughters as well as herself by carbon monoxide poisoning. What she can't figure out is how or why a mother could do that to her children.
I was very impressed with how Ms. Kagan told this story. I really liked her writing style and I enjoyed that the story was told in first person through Elizabeth's own voice. I loved how this book was so honest (brutally at times), and it actually delved into the darker side of motherhood. I really got caught up in Elizabeth's story and I couldn't put this book down. I was very curious to see how (or if) Elizabeth would resolve her personal issues while at the same time trying to cope with April's death.
But I think what I most appreciated about this novel was how the author drew the parallels between Elizabeth's and Adele's lives. As I read the first few chapters in this novel, I could tell that Adele's story was going to be related to Elizabeth's current situation; however, I had no idea how the author was going to link them together. As Elizabeth begins investigating Adele's life, the similarities between the two women was disturbing to say the least. When Elizabeth realizes that she will never really know what Adele felt in those last hours of her life, she decides that she can personally understand Adele enough to fill in the gaps. And as a result, she begins to come to terms with her own life.
One of my favorite scenes in the book occurs near the end. Elizabeth's life was beginning to spin out of control and she finds herself alone with her two daughters in the middle of the woods (in the freezing cold.) She has hit rock bottom -- just like Adele, yet Elizabeth doesn't decide to kill herself and her two children. I loved how this scene really made me think. What causes one person to go off the deep end, while another person can snap back and gain some perspective? Just how fine a line really exists between going "crazy" and "staying somewhat sane?"
I am thinking about choosing this book for my personal book club because I think the dynamics of my group would make this a fascinating discussion. We are all moms (some working and some stay-at-home), and I have a feeling that some of us might relate more to this book that others. I actually have to wonder if our differences about the characters and their actions wouldn't make the discussion even more interesting (and probably more lively!) There is a reading guide included in the back of the paperback version of the book that has some excellent questions. All of the fifteen questions include multiple questions, so there are probably closer to 50-75 questions! Some of the themes include feeling lost, marital relations, adultery, motherhood, war, grief, suicide, guilt, and depression. Believe me when I say that there is just so much to talk about!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy so I could participate in the EDIWTB Book Club. If you've read the book and would like to chime in (or even if you just want to read what others are saying), you should stop by Everyday I Write the Book Blog today.