I did not like The Red Book. I didn’t like the parents who tolerated their preteen sons watching hardcore pornography at the family dinner table. I hated the woman who had children in spite of her husband’s wishes. I hated her deadbeat husband who ignored his wife and children. I despised the woman who came to the conclusion that her emotional and physical absence during her mother’s slow, painful death from cancer justified her partner’s fling with a young woman. I loathed the woman who carelessly spent her husband’s money on refurbishing their summer home in Antibes, and the woman who piled up parking tickets, and the woman who planned to trick another man into providing sperm for the baby she desperately wanted…and I hated that [SPOILERALERTSPOILERALERTSPOILERALERTSPOILERALERT] eventually all of their problems were solved by the discovery of a mountain of vintage and valuable clothes in an attic.
Former college roommates with different personalities gather at Harvard for their twenty-year reunion. They have husbands, kids, and troubled pasts, but they’re always there for each other. Well, one of them is always there for the rest. Over the course of the weekend, they…I don’t know. They don’t rekindle or reaffirm their friendship as they’re barely in the same house. They don’t confront their demons, they just decide what else they need/want/deserve, whether it’s a divorce or a lesbian relationship or a house in the Caribbean.
Having said that, I get why some people might enjoy reading it, especially on vacation, or whatever–there’s a certain soap opera grip to the story, and a certain fascination in seeing if these women get away with all the things they’re trying to get away with. Nevertheless, this book doesn’t really say anything new about anything–women of a certain age, teenagers, marriage, privilege…We already know that Harvard is, in fiction and the movies anyway, an elite breeding-ground/marriage market, and we can surmise that having to choose between downsizing to a house in the French Riviera and a mansion in L.A. is terribly difficult. Attempts at satire generally fall flat, despite a few funny lines of dialogue. The novel’s been compared to Mary McCarthy’s The Group, but it lacks McCarthy’s incisiveness and psychological insight. The Red Book tries so hard to squeeze its characters into formulas–repressed artist, failing businesswoman, empathetic journalist–that it removes their relatability and fails to provide any reason why these characters would like each other, or even care enough about each others’ lives to resent each other.