I Smile Back
by Amy Koppelman
$15.00 List Price
Laney Brooks is a woman in agony, suffering from an undefined malady that makes standard housewife ennui—boredom from carpooling or picking up dry cleaning—look like a picnic. Laney’s despair, ably depicted by Amy Koppelman in her affecting second novel, I Smile Back, is rooted in childhood. Specifically, it is tied to the abandonment of Laney’s family by her father and to her abiding sense of worthlessness. Laney’s adulthood has been marked by success (husband and beloved children, SUV, nice house in northern New Jersey) as well as self-destruction (affairs, drugs, alcohol abuse). And her darker impulses lead to a halfhearted suicide attempt and brief institutionalization.
To see Laney’s plight, though, solely as a reaction to her dad is to ignore the myriad anxieties competing to defeat her. Always a beauty,
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