The reverberations of the ancient play "Medea" and a motherís love for her children reach across this dark and troubling novel
in which a thirty-something woman must come to terms with the death of her childhood friend while also reaching across to her husband in the hope that she can somehow save her troubled marriage. Elizabeth Burns has been suffering devastating blackouts which seem to come on her for no apparent reason. Even as she awakens to small crowds gathering around her, her therapist, Dr. Leland, tries desperately to get to the heart of the problem.
A journalist and a TV producer, Elizabeth hasnít quite worked through her horrifying experiences working in Kosovo and her feelings for Renzo, a handsome war photographer and a kindred spirit. Elizabeth was transported emotionally with this man,
and she has tried to settle back into domestic life in New York with her two daughters, Tess and Daisy, and her husband, Mark, a distracted mathematical prodigy who spends much of his time in his office fanatically ensconced in his strange world of numbers.
But it is the memory of her childhood friend April, who suddenly disappeared from school when she was
only six years old, that has most affected Elizabeth of late. Aprilís disappearance is significant in Elizabethís life;
although she can barely even remember how they met, her anxieties are somehow born from this experience even as she tries to transcribe the ghost before April disappears once again. It was indeed a close relationship that was somehow severed, and it isnít until Elizabeth is much older that she learns the terrible truth of a damaged
young woman so severely traumatized that she resorted to killing her two children by suffocating them in her car in the woods.
Driven to delve deeper into her story and somehow understand Adele Cassidyís slow disintegration, Elizabeth decides to conduct a series of interviews with those who new Adele
in the months before her death. Of special interest are the Cassidy family's former neighbor Mavis Traub, who was certain that Adele was having an affair with Lenny Morton, a gay man, and that she was depressed because she was fat; and Trudy, Adeleís younger sister, who ponders at the kind of society that would leave a woman no other choice than to do away with herself and her children.
Soon enough, Elizabeth finds herself caught up in the mind of Adeleís final
moments. Adeleís troubled visits to her therapist, recorded in her file those terrible few weeks before her suicide, propel forward Elizabethís own brittle house of domesticity.
Her own chronic discontent with herself and her marriage threatens to become a thick blanket of anxiety weighing down every aspect of her life, especially when Mark, in bed at night, pulls on a pair of shiny metal handcuffs and dangles them over Elizabethís head, asking her to participate in a hyper-self-aware bondage session.
It all becomes too much for Elizabeth, who until now has never gone beyond playacting. Ironically, though, Markís kinky demands along with the segues between Mavis and Trudy eventually jar Elizabeth with all of the explanations as to why Adele ultimately killed herself and her children.
As Elizabeth plunges forwards convinced that she can deconstruct Adeleís life, author Deborah Copaken Kogan intuitively explores the nature of war and hatred, and the internal conflicts of filicidal mothers who seem to have very little options available to them. Surely Adele must have considered the aftermath of her decision when making it, and surely she must have thought of the kind of void she would leave behind. A woman
who killed herself along with her children could not have been driven - if at all - by revenge.
The parallels between the two women are obvious; itís how they handle their respective situations that are so different. Both Elizabeth and Adele are mired in fatigue, husbands, responsibilities and work, ďthe sticky tar pit,Ē the deep malaise, the nagging sense of a life wasted and the desire to find meaning. Was Adele a cold-blooded, calculating murderer? A housewife at the end of her rope? Or perhaps some other creature altogether?
The urge to find out what happened in that station wagon three decades earlier accelerates this story toward
its devastating conclusion. Koganís complex and multilayered heroine ultimately drives the pace even as she delicately exposes the slow layers of denial and pain, the fractured memories of April that have so stultified
her over the years.