Exactly a year ago, I reviewed a memoir called My Salinger Year; written by Joanna Rakoff, it was an account of her year working as assistant to J. D Salinger’s literary agent and a charming take on literary New York in the 1990s. Thus, on hearing that Rakoff was to publish a debut novel, I was eager to see how the author would fare in the world of fiction.
I took it with me to Corsica with two friends; my final holiday in Europer before I made the move down under to Sydney, and read it one heady hot day under the Mediterranean sun. A coming-of-age novel reminiscent of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, A Fortunate Age tells the tale of a group of Oberlin graduates who move to New York to chase dreams, relationships and a life less ordinary and it perfectly captures the transition from graduate to adulthood. Much like Rakoff’s account of her first post-univeristy job in literary New York, A Fortunate Age highlights the highs and the lows that are so synonymous with finding one’s feet after the three-year haze of late nights and lecture halls and the chaos of university life has come to an abrupt finish.
The novel explores themes of love, personal and career ambition, politics, literature, child-rearing, mental illness, the bonds of family and obligations related to family and friends, and is written with insight and intelligence throughout.
With a cast of well thought out characters, meticulous prose and vivid imagery, A Fortunate Age is a fabulous follow-up to Rakoff’s memoir that will resonate with graduates and twenty-somethings all over the world.
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A Fortunate Age by Joanna Rakoff Summary
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.
I loved this interview with Joanna Rakoff on finding the courage, confidence and clarity of mind to become a best-selling author.
Joanna Rakoff Author Bio
Joanna Rakoff is the author of the international bestselling memoir My Salinger Year and the novel A Fortunate Age, winner of the Goldberg Prize for Fiction, the Elle Readers’ Prize, and a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller. Rakoff’s books have been translated into twenty languages and nominated for major prizes in The Netherlands and France. She has written frequently for The New York Times, Vogue, Marie Claire, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications.
More Joanna Rakoff books
Joanna Rakoff has also written her best-selling memoir, My Salinger Year. You can read my review here.
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