Rakoff's debut novel is a ponderous, meandering and nostalgic portrait of a postcollegiate group of Gen-Xers awkwardly navigating weddings, pregnancies, betrayals and funerals in pre- and post-9/11 New York City. At the center of the group is Sadie Peregrine, a rising book editor who is having trouble reconciling her personal and professional ambitions. Rounding out her circle is Lil, a depressed and flailing scholar; Emily, a starving actress; Tal, a successful actor; Beth, a would-be English prof; and Dave, an enigmatic musician and Beth's ex-boyfriend. The writing is episodic and relies heavily on exposition, and many character interactions and plot developments occur off the page and are referred to only indirectly. At her best, Rakoff offers a carefully studied glimpse into her characters' minds. Too often, though, the large cast and the hopscotch chronology come at the expense of narrative tension, of which there isn't much. Thirty-somethings looking back wistfully on their 20s and their struggles with the vicissitudes of adulthood might get a bang out of this. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A Fortunate Ageby Joanna Smith Rakoff
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/i>… See more details below
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.
Rakoff's first novel is unabashedly influenced by Mary McCarthy's The Group, and though it doesn't reach those heights, it's an entertaining, updated look at artistic-minded young people progressing toward adulthood in New York. Where McCarthy focused on a group of new Vassar graduates, Rakoff's characters are alumni of Oberlin, a liberal bastion that the friends generally look upon favorably but were also quite ready to leave after four years. The novel opens with the surprise announcement of a wedding engagement between Tuck and Lil. The engagement party allows the reader to become acquainted with all of the friends and serves as somewhat of an official kick-off to actual adulthood for them. Rakoff then formulaically uses the narrative to take turns with each friend in order to place equal importance on all of them, despite their various levels of likability. As they experience marriage, children, dot-com busts, infidelities, alcohol abuse, personal tragedies, professional successes, and other common experiences of twentysomethings in the mid-1990s, Rakoff objectively and deftly chronicles all of it despite her personal connections. Recommended for most fiction collections.
“An absorbing, if at times sprawling, story of a group of idealistic friends coming of age in the big city.”
— The Boston Globe
“Superb, acutely insightful… a modern-day version of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence"
“An expansive and elegantly executed time capsule of the dot.com generation finding its feet during a critical moment in history.”
— New York Daily News
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