The Red Book is the name of the annual yearbook produced by Harvard University that helps keep alumni abreast of their former classmates achievements. Deborah Kogan's highly acclaimed new novel is the story of four such Harvard students and friends, who's lives have taken very different paths in the twenty years since graduating in 1989, and who are brought together once more over the course of a turbulent reunion weekend.
Below, you can read an exclusive extract from the book which introduces the four friends as they prepare for the fateful reunion.
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 could also 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.
‘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. ‘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.
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. To be a part of their close-knit circle of friends meant upholding a certain level of epater-le-bourgeois aesthetics. If a minivan or even a station wagon could have been done ironically, believe her, it would have.
Clover never met an excuse to dress up she hasn’t embraced: weddings, the opera, Halloween, toga parties, Christmas, black-tie benefits, white-tie benefits, New Year’s Eve. Even now, at forty-two – with her giraffe legs, her gym-toned arms, her still-smooth skin, her salon-straightened hair framing a fine-boned jaw, and the oddity of those cerulean eyes parked in the middle of a dark-skinned face – she was still asked, on occasion, if she modeled.
When Clover signed up for the reunion online and saw not only that the Friday night cocktail party in the Kirkland House courtyard had a luau theme but also that Bucky Gardner would be in attendance, she headed straight to Calypso. Something in light blue, she asked the salesperson, to bring out the color in her eyes. Bucky’s wife Arabella, or so she’d heard, had not aged well. Rumor had it that she was an alcoholic (no surprises there) and that the decades of smoking and purging had taken their toll on her skin and teeth. Clover, though newly and relievedly married, wanted Bucky to see, really see, if only on the most superficial level possible, the depths of his mistake.
Clover’s Blackberry buzzes, and she holds the phone up to her ear. ‘Hello?’
The voice on the other end is crying, gasping for air. ‘Clover? Is that you?’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Who’s this?’
The woman sounds so distraught, she’s barely able to speak. ‘It’s Addison.’
‘Addison, baby. What’s wrong?’
‘I’m . . . I’m in jail!’
Zoe Zane, aged seven months, is starting to fuss for her night feeding when Mia receives the call from Clover asking her to drop everything and head to Kendall Square. So after a brief explanation to her husband – ‘Get this: Addison was taken into the Cambridge police station. Something about old parking tickets, God only knows’ – she straps the baby to her chest, throws some extra diapers and wipes into a bag, and leaves Jonathan with the three boys.
‘Let her spend the night behind bars,’ Jonathan shouts after her, only half-jokingly. ‘It’ll teach her a lesson.’ Jonathan can’t understand how his wife and Addison were ever friends, though Mia claims that buried under Addison’s rampant narcissism lies a tenderhearted kitten.
‘I’m looking for Addison Hunt?’ Mia says to the cop manning the front desk at the police station. She’d been given only the vaguest instructions from Clover, other than to bring cash. So before jumping in a taxi, she stopped at an ATM and took out the maximum withdrawal, $800, which she figured, with whatever cash Clover and Gunner were able to scrounge up together, should more than cover Addison’s unpaid tickets. ‘And I brought cash to pay the fines.’ Mia pulls out the thick wad of twenty-dollar bills.
‘You mean the parking ticket lady? Unless you got a hundred grand there, don’t even bother,’ the cop says. ‘And I wouldn’t go flashin’ that around here neither.’
‘A hundred grand?’ The sheer madness of the number causes Mia to choke on gulped air.
‘Actually, no. My bad. It’s only $99,436.53 to pay off the fines plus whatever fees the judge sets as bail for twenty years of non-payment,’ says the cop, reading the number off a sheet of paper in front of him. ‘But who’s counting?’
Jane spots one last empty beer bottle on the living room windowsill and sighs. Almost done. Six of the seven offspring of her former roommates, along with her own daughter, Sophie, have been tucked away into four beds and three musty sleeping bags. Her childhood bedroom has been handed over to a solo, distraught Gunner, for whom she also located an Ambien with a still-valid expiration date in the downstairs medicine cabinet.
Jane runs a final wet rag along the kitchen’s center island, her thoughts spiralling inward. She tries to imagine what it would be like either to wipe down the surface of this island every night for the rest of her life or never to see it again. Her editors at the Globe have said they want her back in the States anyway, now that they’ve shut down most of their foreign bureaus; international stories, they’ve been arguing, hardly ever make it on to the most e-mailed list, and the wire services do a perfectly adequate job. Jane’s been trying to make the counterargument that she brings years of experience and firsthand knowledge to her work; that the wire services do a lousy job at producing thoughtful features on any subject, and that she can produce stories relatively inexpensively out of her home office. And yet. And yet. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing to do the whole cosmic wipe-down again. To obliterate one life and begin another. Leave Paris and all those corners and bistros holding memories of Herve behind. Reclaim her childhood home.
The Red Book is published on 6 September by Virago.
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