In her second novel, out from Voice on April 3, Deborah Copaken Kogan looks at the lives of Harvard graduates as their 20th class reunion comes around, turning what might sound like a "marketing-driven 'women's' book" into 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." The following excerpt takes us into the world of Harvard alum Addison as she pilots her microbus through Cambridge.
Friday, June 5, 2009
It had simply never occurred to Addison that the Cambridge Police Department not only kept two-decade-old records of unpaid parking tickets, but that they also could then use the existence of her overdue fines, on the eve of her twentieth college reunion, to arrest her in front of Gunner and the kids. If such a scenario had struck her as even remotely possible, she’d be thinking twice about zooming through that red light on Memorial Drive.
But it hadn’t, so here we go.
“Oh my god, look at these idiots,” she says, slamming her hand down hard on the horn of her blue and white 1963 VW Microbus, which she purchased online one night in a fit of kitsch nostalgia. Or that’s the story she tells friends when they ask what she was thinking buying a vehicle that takes weeks or even months to fix when it breaks down, for want of parts. “Take my advice: don’t ever go on eBay stoned,” she’ll say, whenever the conversation veers toward car ownership, online shopping, or adult pot use. “You’ll end up with a first generation off the master Cornell ’77 along with the friggin’ bus the dude drove to the show.”
While the story is technically true, the impetus behind the purchase was much more about economic necessity, practicality, and appearances than Addison likes to admit. For one, she and Gunner couldn’t afford a new Prius. They refused, on ecological principle, to buy a used SUV, or rather they refused to be put in the position of being judged for owning an SUV. (While they loved the Earth as much as the next family, they weren’t above, strictly speaking, adding a supersize vehicle to its surface for the sake of convenience.) A cheap compact, with three kids and a rescued black Lab, was out of the question. And they couldn’t wrap their heads around the image of themselves at the helm of a minivan. To be a part of their close-knit circle of friends, all of whom had at least one toe dipped in the alternative art scene in Williamsburg, meant upholding a certain level of épater-le-bourgeois aesthetics. If a minivan or even a station wagon could have been done ironically, believe her, it would have.
Traffic in front of the Microbus has halted, an admixture of the normal clogged arteries at the Charles River crossings during rush hour compounded by the arterial plaque of reunion weekend attendees, those thousands of additional vehicles that appear every June like clockwork, loaded up with alumni families and faded memories, the latter triggered out of dormancy by the sight of the crimson cupola of Dunster House or the golden dome of Adams House or the Eliot House clock tower, such that any one of the drivers blocking Addison’s path to Harvard Square might be thinking, as Addison is right now (catching a glimpse of the nondescript window on the sixth floor of that disaster of a modernist building that is Mather House), There, right there: That’s where I first fucked her.
No, that wasn’t a typo. Prior to marrying Gunner, Addison spent almost two years in a relationship with a woman. This, she likes to remind everyone, was before “Girls Gone Wild,” before the acronym LUG (“lesbian until graduation”) had even debuted in the Times, so she’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t accuse her of following a trend, okay?
If anything, Addison has come to realize, thanks to a cut-rate Jungian who came highly recommended, Bennie was just one more way—like the roommates she wound up choosing—she’d been trying to shake off her pedigree, to prove to herself and to others that she had more depth and facets than her staid history and prep school diploma would suggest. Addison may have been one of the eighth generation of Hunts to matriculate from Harvard, but she would be the first not to heed the siren call of Wall Street. For one, she had no facility with numbers. For another, she’d seen what Wall Street had done to her father. He, too, had been enamored of the stroke of fresh Golden’s on canvas from the moment he could hold a paintbrush, but he’d tossed his wooden box of acrylics into the back of the closet of his Park Avenue duplex— where it gathered dust until Addison happened upon it one day during a game of hide-and-seek—because that’s what Hunts did: they subsumed themselves into their Brooks Brothers suits. The cirrhosis that killed him in his early fifties, when Addison was just a sophomore in college, was no act of god. It was an act, every glass-tinkling night, of desperation.
Bennie was the first person in her life to make that suggestion. Out loud, at least, and to Addison’s face. And though both Bennie and her pronoun were aberrations in the arc of Addison’s sexual history, what the two had together—although Addison would only be able to understand this in retrospect, per the cut-rate Jungian—was love.
From THE RED BOOK by Deborah Copaken Kogan. Copyright © 2012 Deborah Copaken Kogan. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.