‘The Red Book’ by Deborah Copaken Kogan

Am I alone in thinking that books about school/ university reunions are a bit lazy? The formula is pretty standard – throw together a few characters from wildly different socio-economic backgrounds for a night,  make sure they bring their ‘baggage’, add alcohol and sit back and watch the fireworks.

So if reunion stories are a dime-a-dozen, why do people keep reading (and for that matter writing) them? For the same reason people actually go to reunions – to see who got fat/ aged badly/ got their ‘just deserts’.  Of course, I say this with all the authority of someone who has only ever been to one reunion and who isn’t on Facebook. Am I wrong? If so, please tell me.

A reunion is the setting of Deborah Copaken Kogan’s The Red Book. In fact, it’s the 20th reunion of the Harvard class of ’89. At the centre of the story are room mates Addison, Clover, Jane, and Mia and their spouses and children. We can tick the boxes on stereotypes – Addison is a trust-fund child who lives large on mummy and daddy’s wealth and connections; Chloe grew up on a hippie commune and craves structure and security; Jane is driven and over-achieving, adopted as a young girl from Vietnam; and Mia is a former actress who put her dreams on hold to raise her family.

The most interesting element of this book is the use of the ‘Red Book’ itself. Harvard Class Reports (widely known as the Red Books) are published annually for each Harvard and Radcliffe quinquennial (every five years) reunion class. The tradition dates back to the mid-1800s and every five years, questionnaires are provided to all class members and the results are printed and distributed in advance of the reunion. Quite the undertaking!

Red Book entries for each of the main characters are a neat and convenient way to begin The Red Book. As the story progresses, the Red Book entries of other characters are added. The story ends with the Red Book entries for each of the main characters, five-years onward. Again, an easy way to tie up loose ends.

So why didn’t I like this book? Why wasn’t I completely sucked into the ‘reunion’ vortex, desperate to find out what happened to the characters? It started well but the more I read, the less I cared. The writing wasn’t bad but it was lack-lustre. The characters felt too clichéd. Some elements of the story were oddly repetitive – the guy who majored in poetry but then became a car salesman? You read his story a couple of times… And ultimately, there was just one betrayal too many.

2/5 I didn’t really care about what happened to any of the characters – not a good thing for a reunion story.

This is the second book I’ve read in as many weeks that made reference to banana and chocolate chip pancakes (the other was in Big Brother). Now perhaps it’s because sweet breakfasts simply aren’t my thing or maybe this particular combo has bypassed Australian culinary trends but I have never seen banana and chocolate chip pancakes served here – try this recipe from Gourmet Ontario.


2 responses

  1. I’ve never read books that centre around reunions, but that’s probably because they sound stereotypical and boring to me. That’s not to say I won’t go to my high school reunion. But it’s sad how authors don’t break the rules with these sort of books and write something totally different. Maybe one day?

    • I’ve been trying to think of a really good reunion book… Haven’t yet. There are a few good ‘reunion’ films though, my favourite of course being ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion’ which made me laugh and laugh, especially the Post-It Note bit…. but I did grow up in the 80s!

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