White picket malaise

By Elena Mancini


Two Dollar Radio; 185 pp.; $15.00

“Prostitution is the perfect example of the double standard. It’s illegal to sell your body if you’re poor but when you’re rich—when you’re rich it’s perfectly acceptable. We just call it being a wife,”

“I Smile Back” is a riveting novel that exposes the underbelly of suburban carpool motherhood. Koppelman, who made her debut in 2004 with her novel “A Mouthful of Air,” has a penchant for writing about the darkness that can ooze out of the silver lining at any given time. In this second novel, she explores the complex identity roles of wife, mother, lover and emotionally crippled daughter.

On the surface, Laney, a 30-something, North Jersey stay-at-home mom seems to have the perfect life: two kids, a husband, good looks and all of the trappings of a domestic idyll. But something is always keeping her one-degree removed from fully embracing the stable foundation she’s built for herself. The harder she struggles to preserve the image of intactness, the faster she spirals down a dissolute, drug-laced, self-destructive path. Like the tiny pieces of flesh that she ritually removes from her thighs behind closed doors, Laney sees herself as severed from hope and any form of alleviation. She grabs on to anything to escape the dungeon of her psyche, where the shattered idyll of her own childhood is there to haunt her at every turn.

Fast-paced and unpredictable, written in prose sparse and lyrical, “I Smile Back” is a tour de force unmasking of the contemporary bourgeois fantasy that the foundations of happiness are rooted in material success.


For info on the author’s upcoming Manhattan book events, visit amykoppelman.com.