Monday, February 23, 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 onetime 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 cooly 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."

I got this book through the Barnes and Noble Book Club and really thought I was going to enjoy it. I'm the right age and education level to blend right in with these characters, and yet I felt not one ounce of connection to any of them. The book was long and frequently tedious, and characters veered off on major life diversions with never a hint of the underlying motivations.

I was extremely disappointed with this novel and didn't feel the narrative spoke to me at all. These characters seemed to revel in immaturity, and the endless posing was exhausting to read. I felt like every character was a negative stereotype of one age or another, and they therefore never rang true to me. I had a really hard time with this book; the more I read, the less I liked it and the less connection I felt to the characters. I believe that Lil's wedding should have marked the transition to maturity, but none of these characters ever seem to actually mature. This is my generation, and I would hate to think that any of my friends resembled these folks...

I definitely found the characters mired in perpetual adolescence, and apparently unable to recognize that fact. Getting married and having babies doesn't make you an adult, and I feel these characters were all hiding their immaturity behind the trappings of adulthood. The ending was rushed despite my belief that the book is way too long. My constant feeling while reading was that we were missing too much- too many decisions and actions without any explanations. I think that helped contribute to my feelings of separation from the characters. I couldn't even summon up any sympathy for Lil when she died, and can't see how these people can be considered a group of "friends" given how they act toward one another.

1 comment:

Mella DP said...

Hm. I'd wondered abut that one. The synopsis does read as an attempt to put a good face on Gen-X-as-train-wreck. I suspect this might be an instance in which the "write what you know" advice doesn't so much pull through.