"A Mouthful of Air"
(Reviewed by Kam Aures JUN 18, 2003)
At twenty-five, Julie Davis lives with her husband Ethan and her son Teddy in an apartment on the Upper West Side. An outsider looking in on her world may think that she has the perfect life, but the ever-present turmoil inside her head inhibits her ability to enjoy the riches of wealth and love that are bestowed upon her.
Told from Julie's perspective, A Mouthful of Air begins a few weeks after Julie's attempted suicide. After being released from the hospital she tries to go back into the real world and lead a normal life. However, her emotional instability persists and even the simplest acts are trying to her. She is constantly worrying and questioning herself, fearful of saying the wrong things and of how others perceive her.
They now have a live-in nanny, Georgie, to take care of one-year-old Teddy, which will hopefully lift some of the weight off of her shoulders. Ethan has told her that Georgie is only going to be helping out until she gets better. She thinks to herself, "Maybe Ethan's being sincere when he says this. Maybe he believes that she will get better. But what does that even mean? Will better be when she can give her son a bath without fearing she'll drown him? Sure, that will be better, but better enough? She'll have to feed him without him choking to death, change his diaper without causing a urinary infection."
Along with her constant doubting of herself, she also has issues with food. On her first outing after her suicide attempt she goes with Ethan and some friends to a Knicks game. As she sits in the stands her stomach cramps and she questions why she didn't prepare before she left home. "There are no safe foods for her here. No hard candy, no dry toast."
Throughout the novel, Julie has flashbacks to her family life when she was a child. Her mother experienced the same emotional stress, insecurities and suicidal thoughts back then that Julie is now experiencing as an adult. Julie was always "daddy's little girl" until her father left the family which caused her feelings of betrayal. These feelings continue to plague her throughout her life and add to her thoughts of inadequacy and uncertainness.
In the middle of her struggle to deal with her past and to put her present life back together, Julie discovers that she is pregnant with her second child. She is forced to come off of her anti-depressant medication for the remainder of her pregnancy to protect the health of her unborn child. This is the same medication "that has given her the buoyancy to survive."
A Mouthful of Air, Koppelman's first novel, provides a detailed look at the thoughts and fears of an emotionally unstable individual and the effects that this disease has on her life and the lives of her family. Koppelman made an excellent choice in choosing to tell the story through the eyes of Julie. From this vantage point we are fully able to experience her fragility and the panic that is part of her everyday life. While this vantage points enables us to feel what Julie is feeling, it would have also been intriguing if we were able to see how Ethan perceived the situation. I would have liked to see him have a chance to express his thoughts, even if it was just through a little snippet here and there throughout the novel. Despite this one minor pick, A Mouthful of Air is a very detailed, well-written and unique debut novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 20 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- A Mouthful of Air (April 2003)
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- The official Web site for Amy Koppleman
- New York Observer review of A Mouthful of Air
- Holt Uncensored review of A Mouthful of Air
- Rocky Mountain News on A Mouthful of Air
- BookReporter.com review of A Mouthful of Air
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