03 February 2009

A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff


Flap Copy from ARC:
Rakoff's first novel "details the lives of a group of Oberlin graduates whose ambitions and friendships threaten to unravel as they chase their dreams, shed their youth and build their lives in Brooklyn during the late 1990s and the turn of the twenty-first century.

There's Lil, a would-be scholar whose marriage to an egotistical writer initially brings the group back together (and ultimately drives it apart); Beth, who struggles to let go of her old beau Dave, a oneime piano prodigy trapped by his own insecurity; Emily, an actor perpetually on the verge of success - and starvation - and grappling with her jealousy of Tal, whose acting career has taken off. At the center of their orbit is wry, charismatic Sadie Peregrine, who coolly observes her friends' mistakes but can't quite manage to avoid making her own. As they begin their own careers, marry, and have children, they must navigate the shifting dynamics of their friendships and of the world around them."

I have mixed feelings about this book. I was thoroughly engaged while reading it but feel somewhat bereft at the end, as though each page or chapter promised a revelation or an emotion that was never delivered. I felt no connection to any of the characters, though I think they were well-drawn and very well-imagined.

Most of the book's writing is episodic, with narrative and chronological jumps that were at times confusing; many important character interactions and plot movements occur off the page and rely solely on indirect mention. I'm not sure whether Rakoff is nostalgic for her own circle of educated-but-floundering post-college friends, or if she was one of the clique's outsiders and so now bitter and reflective about her own and their experienecs.

I enjoyed reading A Fortunate Age and I recommend it as an insightful look at the inner workings of a burgeoning adult friend group -- I'm just left feeling a little unsatisfied, I suppose because I always hope to connect with at least one character in a story and here I reached the end of the book liking each of the characters even less than I had at the beginning.

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