Sunday, February 1, 2009
A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff
Pages: 399 pgs
Challenges-Read’n’Review Challenge, 100+ Reading Challenge, 20 in 2009
Summary from Publisher
Like The Group, Mary McCarthy's classic tale about coming of age in New York, Joanna Smith Rakoff 's richly drawn and immensely satisfying 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 onetime piano prodigy trapped by his own insecurity; Emily, an actor perpetually on the verge of success -- and starvation -- who grapples 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 careers, marry, and have children, they must navigate the shifting dynamics of their friendships and of the world around them.
Set against the backdrop of the vast economic and political changes of the era -- from the decadent age of dot-com millionaires to the sobering post-September 2001 landscape -- Smith Rakoff's deeply affecting characters and incisive social commentary are reminiscent of the great Victorian novels. This brilliant and ambitious debut captures a generation and heralds the arrival of a bold and important new writer.
A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff has so much potential to be an amazing read but misses the mark. The story centers around a group of Oberlin College graduates who are trying to acclimate to life after college in the face of relationship and professional trials . The novel begins with Lil’s wedding and steam rolls from there. It is a story about pseudo-adults becoming full grown adults and the results of the transformation.
A Fortunate Age had such potential to be a really great read but there were some faults that could not be overlooked. The story had a complete lack of compelling characters. The women seemed to be whiney and self-absorbed. There is nothing remotely sympathetic about any of the characters. The characters lacked depth. It was often difficult to follow their stories or become attached to any one of the characters because of the episodic format of the book. You never really got to know a character. They were there one minute and gone the next with no follow-up. Anytime there was a character with an interesting back-story pops up (like Will) there is no follow-up. You never know how they got over their issues and how their story progresses. A character is meeting a man in one chapter and married to them in the next. It is impossible to become attached to a character or truly interested in a character’s story with a format like this. It resembles a collection of short stories rather than a novel. It is like the author wanted to squeeze as much story as she possibly could into this novel.
I found A Fortunate Age to be difficult to get engaged in and easy to forget. If Rakoff had expanded on some of the more interesting storylines the story would have been greatly improved. The one glaring instance is Beth’s relationship with Will. I would have loved to see how that developed especially after the rather auspicious start. This is definitely not my cup of tea but perhaps another reader would have a more favorable opinion.
*A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for review. My opinion is my own and has not been influenced in any way and any monies made from associate or affiliate accounts are recycled back into the blog.