A Fortunate Age

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Overview

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 ...

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2009 Audio CD Brand new. 16 CDs. Librarian's Choice & Collector's Favorite. Brand new complete & unabridged audio book still in its original case [I will ship immediately]

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal

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.
—Kevin Greczek

From the Publisher
“The long-awaited book that perfectly captures the '90s, that time of social and financial excess that set the stage for the current economic collapse.”
— NPR.org

“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"
— TheRumpus.net

“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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440708015
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 4/16/2009

Meet the Author

Joanna Smith Rakoff

Joanna Smith Rakoff has written for The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. She holds a B.A. from Oberlin College; an M.A. from University College, London; and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She lives in New York with her husband and son.

Biography

Joanna Smith Rakoff has written for The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Western Humanities Review, and Arts & Letters, and her personal essays have appeared in such anthologies as How to Spell Chanukah and If You Really Want to Hear About It: Writers on J.D. Salinger. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. She holds a B.A. from Oberlin College, an M.A. from University College, London, and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She lives in New York with her husband and son.

Biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Joanna Smith Rakoff:
"My first real job was at a grand, storied literary agency, Harold Ober Associates, where I was the assistant to the president, a grand, storied lady named Phyllis Westberg, who was wonderful to me—if a bit scary, at times—and gave me more responsibilities than, perhaps, she should have, which really allowed me to learn about the publishing industry and literary culture, in general. I'd just dropped out of a Ph.D. program and still thought, rather pompously, of myself as a scholar, which made Ober a great place to work, as they were primarily known, at that time, for the estates they represented: Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes, Agatha Christie, Ross MacDonald, Anna Kavan, and tons of others. But perhaps the most interesting and strange part of my job was answering J. D. Salinger's fan mail. Salinger, a longtime client of the agency, received tons of mail, as you can imagine, much of it very personal and strange, and much of it from teenagers who had formed a sort of hysterical identification with Holden Caulfield. I was supposed to send a form letter to each and every Salinger fan, but over my time at Ober I began personalizing letters and—it's bizarre to think about it now!—entered into a correspondence with a few of them. I actually still have some of my favorite letters from that time (which are supposed to be filed away somewhere in the Ober archives…)."

"I have an almost-four-year-old son, Coleman, and when not writing I spend most of my time with him, reading books or drawing or running around the park behind our apartment building. I finished the first draft of A Fortunate Age just before giving birth to him and began the process of revising it when he was about a month old. So, every weekend, I'd literally hand the baby over to my husband, Evan, then run to the local coffee shop and write for as long as I could, until I got the call saying it was time to come home and feed the baby. It was a grueling, but exhilarating time. And there were days, especially when Coleman was older, when it was very hard for me to leave him (and Evan, too); so hard that I'd sometimes burst into tears, certain that I was causing Cole some irrevocable damage. On such days, Evan, whose mother always dreamed of being a writer (but never completed anything), would say to me, 'You'll be doing him more damage if you don't finish this novel.' And he was, most definitely, correct."

"Rather like my character, Sadie Peregrine, I live in an inherited apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In my case, the apartment belonged to my grandmother. (Sadie's inherited hers from a great aunt; and, in fact, I was offered an aunt's apartment, a few years back, but one apartment seemed enough...) I inherited the place when I was quite young, 26, and seriously impoverished. All of my friends were living in tiny, horrible apartments in the East Village or various parts of Brooklyn or Queens—as was I!—and it was very strange to all of a sudden be in Manhattan, in this kind of large, grown-up apartment, surrounded by all of my grandmother's things (I quickly donated a bunch of stuff, as the alternative was to go insane; and, if you can believe it, my father still gives me a hard time about getting rid of some ancient, chipped child's bedroom set—which, no, hadn't even belonged to him! I think it was—and is—just hard for my father to view the apartment as mine, rather than his mother's, and to allow me to actually get rid of a thing or two. My mother, meanwhile, was encouraging me to knock down all the walls and make the place "clean and modern," which my husband and I—ten years after moving in—having finally gotten around to doing (in part, out of necessity; the place was falling down around us)."

"I hope this doesn't sound insane, but I don't have very many hobbies. I'm a bit boring. My life, since childhood, has been very much centered around reading and writing. There is, literally, nothing I'd rather do than lie on the couch, reading a novel. And as a child—maybe even now—the worlds I enter when I read are as real to me as the actual world around me.

That said, I love going to the movies. My husband and I tend to go once a week; and I often take my son to matinees, much as my father took me, from an early age, every Thursday afternoon. I often fantasize about making—that is writing and directing—a film, but am not sure I have the courage to navigate that particular industry. But we will see.

Otherwise, I do a lot of yoga—being constitutionally unable to participate in team sports and having a deep aversion to gyms—go running in East River Park, ice skate at Wollman Rink, and love to cook and, even more, to bake. And before having Coleman we used to have huge dinner parties. But in recent years, between Coleman and writing, I haven't had the strength to entertain as much. Instead I've been teaching Coleman to cook, which is more fun than I ever could have imagined.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 8, 1972
    2. Place of Birth:
      Suffern, NY, USA
    1. Education:
      B.A., English, Oberlin College. 1994; M.A., English, University College, London. 1995; M.F.A., Columbia University, 1999
    2. Website:

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