By Corrie Pikul
I Smile Back
(Two Dollar Radio, $15)
What’s the matter with Laney? The woman at the center of Amy Koppelman’s
stomach-churning new novel, I Smile Back (Two Dollar Radio), has two
adoring children, a successful husband who’s still smitten with her after
nine years of marriage, a big car and bigger house in a New Jersey suburb,
and a face and figure that stun men and women alike.
Yet Laney’s perfect little life has started to feel like an inescapable bad
dream, and in coming to terms with that, the former “good girl” has turned
into every man’s—and child’s—worst nightmare. She’s become addicted to
alcohol, drugs, and sex, and she’s angry, cruelly cynical, and spacey, not
to mention suicidal. Laney feels let down by life and love, and she’s fast
Koppelman mostly writes from inside Laney’s disillusioned mind, ricocheting
between the quotidian details of wife and motherhood and big-picture
musings, forming exquisite stand-alone tone poems: “Hope dashes. Clichés
ring true. Frozen turkey is on sale at C-town. Time passes faster and more
slowly than you want it to. If only Laney could deposit these moments.
Withdraw them later. When she is too tired to remember. Or can’t. And now?
Now it’s bathtime.”
Like the postpartum depressive in Koppelman’s first novel, A Mouthful of
Air, this stay-at-home mom seems to exist in a pre-feminist world, coddled,
cared for, and caged in, and her affliction will sound familiar to anyone
who’s ever read—or read about—The Feminine Mystique. Watching with horror as
Laney battles futilely with “the problem that has no name” makes us
hyperaware of the importance of a job and a purpose of one’s own. Paging Dr.
Next Review >>>
REVIEWS & PRESS
FROM THE BOOK
BUY THE BOOK
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS