Publishers Weekly Talks with Amy Koppelman by Claire Kirch July 14, 2021
PW spoke with Koppelman about why she wrote A Mouthful of Air, what she would do differently if she wrote such a novel today, what it was like writing and directing the film adaptation, and how Joan Didion's encouragement years ago reassured her as an author.
[A] stunning and elegant portrayal of the rawness of postpartum depression, told in elegant and authentic, sparse prose.
–Leslie Lindsay, from the Always with a Book interview with Amy Koppelman, August 4, 2021
[A] smart, sensitive first novel.
Koppelman nails every detail.–The Boston Globe
This is a story so convincing that never again will you pass a new mother on the street without wondering what's behind her mouthful of smiles.
–The New York Observer
Koppelman's prose is as spare and powerful as poetry.
–St. Petersburg Times
Lean, minutely detailed, and frighteningly convincing.
Koppelman draws her audience in and never lets loose.
–Rocky Mountain News
This new writer should definitely be considered a rising star.
A Mouthful of Air is powerful, accurate, and insightful.
–Body & Soul Magazine
[A] novel that quietly builds suspense to the last page.
–Dallas Morning News
Amy Koppelman tells an ultimately harrowing story, but guides it with restraint and honesty, and no small amount of courage.
The Bell Jar for moms.
–East Bay Express
Written with a dreamlike intensity... Koppelman is unwaveringly honest and graceful in her storytelling.
"Anyone who has suffered from depression will recognize the distant, almost ethereal rhythm of Julie's days."
So visceral is Koppelman's prose, the reader truly feels the depth of Julie's spirit and the toll of her continual struggle to keep herself afloat.
[Amy Koppelman] does a tremendous job conveying the point that, although Julie is surrounded with some degree of affluence, none of it can pacify the mental anguish of depression... The mood of the novel is a clear insight into the depth of talent Koppelman possesses as a writer.
–David Exum, BookReporter
In this riveting and disturbing novel, Koppelman speaks for women... whose internal battles pass unremarked by society at large.
–Luan Gaines, Curled Up With a Good Book
Amy Koppelman offers a message of compassion as well as a scathing indictment of modern American life from a fresh, wholly original angle.
This searing and honest first novel offers both compelling narrative and stunning insight into the crippling grip of depression.
A well written, harrowing story (told with glaring honestly).
–Shannon Bigham, BookLoons
A Mouthful of Air evokes two classics of pre-feminist writing from the last 19th century: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Awakening by Kate Chopin.
–New York Free Press
This debut novel is nothing short of astonishing: read it and weep.
–Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of The Four Temperaments
Eminently worth reading.
–Dr. Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post & Opinions
This is a novel to share with a colleague... It is a story that reminds us to care deeply about our patients.
–Nancy Glimm, C.S.W., Psychiatric Services
A Mouthful of Air is a stunning first novel, which offers no hope to alleviate the pain of despair. The joy is all in Koppelman's gift in telling a true and moving story.
–Maureen Howard, author of Facts of Life and Natural History
BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion
The poem "The Girl" by Marie Howe, from the collection What the Living Do: Poems, serves as an epigraph for A Mouthful of Air. What might have drawn the author to this particular poem for this story about Julie?
We see Julie's childhood copy of The Velveteen Rabbit being passed down to her by her mother: what was interesting about the particular section that Julie sought out? Why do you think she might have been drawn to this passage, focused on "becoming Real"?
More than once, we see Julie noticing the apartment window across the courtyard from hers: what does she observe there? Why do you think this was so noteworthy to Julie?
A seemingly simple trip to the grocery stores goes horribly wrong for Julie–what happens both internally and externally for her? What was the occasion that she was planning for? Why do you think the pressure of this task was so impossible for her?
How does Julie feel about Georgie's new role in their home? Does Julie feel like she has a choice in this matter?
Julie and her family are clearly wealthy, living in posh neighborhoods, having live-in help, access to doctors and most anything they could want: why do you think the author chose this particular character to portray a mother suffering from post-partum depression?
What are some of Julie's descriptions of living with depression? Did Julie's story further your understanding of the experience? Was it similar to something you have experienced or witnessed? Did you learn anything you did not know before about post-partum depression in particular?
We see Julie interacting with and analyzing her exchanges with people that she is paying or that work for her: taxi drivers, stores clerks, elevator operators, nannies. In what ways does this novel address issues of class?
Julie frequently observes other women to get ideas of what is appropriate for her to also do: what are some of these instances? Why do you think she depends so heavily on the behavior of others in order to determine what her own behavior should be?
Julie goes to regular psychotherapy appointments with Dr. Edelman: what is their relationship like? Does Julie feel as though this is helping with her depression?
What are the recurring phrases that Julie repeats to herself? Why do you think these mantras are at war in Julie's mind?
After Julie's suicide attempt, she is back home and living with her son and husband, Ethan: what is their relationship like? Does he know why his wife tried to end her life? Were you surprised by any of her husband's reactions? Do you think there are things he could have done differently?
Julie visits her mother, Harriet, a short while after Julie's suicide attempt: what is their interaction like? What are the various things that her mother is focused on or concerned about? How do you think this affects Julie?
"If you look happy, then you are happy" is a phrase that Julie's mother has repeated to her throughout her life: Does Julie believe it? Are there any instances where she is truly happy?
Julie frequently reflects on memories of her father from her childhood: what different aspects of their relationship are revealed over the course of the novel? What parts surprised you? How do you think Julie's relationship with her father may have affected those with her own children? Why does Julie choose not to tell her husband, Ethan, that she saw her father at the basketball game?
Intergenerational trauma–trauma that gets passed down from one generation to subsequent generations–can create symptoms of depression and self-destructive behaviors. Considering the story of Julie and her parents, and Julie with her own children, what role do you think intergenerational trauma might have played?
Despite having a doting and devoted husband, Julie envisions him having an affair and moving on to a life without her–why do you think this is?
Color plays an important role in this book: why do you think the author chose to do this? What are some of the contrasts in color and décor between their first home and their second home? Why do you think Julie might have made these changes to her surroundings?
When Julie discovers that she is pregnant with a second child, what are her thoughts and reactions? How does her husband react when he learns the news? How do they decide what to do next? How does Julie feel after learning that she will have a little girl?
Julie and her husband and doctors create a plan for when she will and will not take her medication, carefully considering her well-being as well as her unborn baby's well-being: What were their concerns? What are Julie's reasons for not following that plan? What influenced Julie to make this choice? Do you know anyone in your own life who has struggled with the decision to remain on medication that might come with undesired side-effects or sacrifices?
What do we learn was the immediate cause of Julie's attempt to end her own life? As we learn more about her family and childhood, what else do you think might have contributed to her making this type of decision? Do you think she loves her son? Why might she think they would be better off without her?
Does Julie feel as though she has power, control, or choice? What are some examples throughout the novel where she does? What are some examples where she does not, or feels as though she does not? Having inside knowledge to some details of her childhood, what do you think shaped these ways of thinking?
Is the ending of this novel what you expected? What, if anything, do you think could have been done to prevent this situation?
If you have seen the film adaptation of A Mouthful of Air, talk about their similarities and differences. Were you surprised by any of them? What did you like more? What did you miss?
If you have read Amy Koppelman's other novels, I Smile Back and Hesitation Wounds, would you say they have major themes in common? Talk about the similarities and differences.