Friday, April 18, 2008

Book Recommendation: Then She Found Me

When I worked at the bookstore, one of my “Staff Recommendations” was Elinor Lipman’s novel Then She Found Me. As far as I know, no one bought the book, which is a shame because it is very good.

It is the story of April Epner, the adopted daughter of two Holocaust survivors whose ordinary life as a high school Latin teacher is interrupted by Bernice Graves, her birth mother. Bernice, who was a teenager when she gave April up for adoption, wants to establish a connection with her daughter but initially seems to lack the finesse and maturity necessary for a real relationship. Between telling April that her birth father is John F. Kennedy and attempting to set April up on blind dates, Bernice’s disruptive presence does not fit into April’s orderly existence. However, the two of them try to forge some sort of understanding.

Although the plot seems simple, Lipman’s handling of it is surprisingly deft. She ably weaves in the complications of being the child of Holocaust survivors without getting mired down in gravitas. Even though the story is from April’s perspective, Lipman is able to evoke sympathy for Bernice, no small feat considering Bernice’s penchant for lying and her sometimes selfish behavior. Finally, while she manages to incorporate a love interest for April, she never forgets that the story is, at its heart, about the relationship between a mother and daughter.

All in all, Then She Found Me is a good read that also invites reflection about relationships in general and parent-child relationships in particular. Despite its Lifetime "movie of the week" vibe, Lipman manages to balance the characters' angst and frustration with wit and humor and prevents the story from veering off into becoming too maudlin or sentimental.

By the way, the story was apparently made into a movie, starring Bette Middler, Colin Firth, and Helen Hunt, and the book was reissued with the cover shown. I haven't seen the movie, but judging from the trailer, I do know that they made some considerable changes to the plot (I'm more than a little horrified).