The Point of “The Inferno”
I’m not giving anything away if you haven’t already read Deborah Copaken Kogan’s novel Between Here and April. She herself gives away a few things when responding in a recent essay to the news that her novel, The Red Book, was moved from the long list to the short list for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
She tells the story, describing the point of The Inferno for her first novel:
It’s now 2006. I’ve just sold my first novel, Suicide Wood, a modern-day allegory of Dante’s Inferno about a mother who kills herself and her children. I’m told books with the word “suicide” in the title never sell and that I should keep my mouth shut about the Dante business: women—my novel’s alleged audience—will be turned off by Dante. And suicide. I explain that I would like women and men to read my novel, that it’s actually about suicide, and that an understanding of the Inferno is not a prerequisite for understanding it, just a bonus for Dante nerds. I remind everyone of the success of Jeff Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. Its cover featured my friend Phyllida’s blond hair, which is how I originally came to know of the book, but I would have picked it up anyway because, though female, I’m drawn to novels about suicide. (I can’t be the only one, can I?) “His title has ‘virgin’ in it,” I’m told. My title is changed to Between Here and April. I’m not sure what this means, but I’m told, once again, I have no say in the matter.
Before telling readers about her next book (Hell Is Other Parents), the novelist has confessed, “I’m not sure what this means,” when describing the hell she has gone through with her novel. What is interesting is how she’s ended her novel. Well, she sort of ends it with “the point of The Inferno.” I told you I’m not really giving anything away to those who haven’t read it. But I do think you’ll find this letter, very close to the end of the novel, somewhat interesting, especially in light of what Copaken Kogan has revealed of her own literary story: