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A Fortunate Age: A Novel Hardcover – April 7, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Instantly compelling and immensely satisfying, A Fortunate Age 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.

There’s Lil, a would-be scholar whose wedding brings the group back together; Beth, who struggles to let go of her old beau Dave, a onetime piano prodigy trapped by his own insecurity; and 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—from the decadent age of dot-com millionaires to the sobering post–September 2001 landscape. Smith Rakoff’s deeply affecting characters capture a generation.

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From 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 Beths 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.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416590773
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416590774
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #839,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Joanna Smith Rakoff's novel, A Fortunate Age, was a New York Times Editors' Pick, a winner of the Elle Readers' Prize, and a selection of Barnes and Noble's First look Book Club. Like the characters in that novel, she attended Oberlin College, and she holds degrees from University College, London, and Columbia University. She's written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and numerous other publications. She lives in New York with her husband, son, and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Melanchthon VINE VOICE on April 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Six characters in search of themselves move to New York City after graduating from Oberlin in 1994, experiencing love, disappointment, personal growth, and perspectival change. There's a great deal to like here; the four female protagonists in particular are well-developed, interesting characters who have to deal with real problems, and/or have to learn to distinguish reality from deception. The male characters are somewhat less effective and more stereotypical, but are also quite effective. I enjoyed the book and will recommend it to others. My main complaint is the blurbing that the book is supposed to capture the experience of a generation. Well, maybe it does, but not my generation. These characters are three years younger than me and it is as if we live in entirely different worlds. The majority of the country did not attend a well-healed private college and did not have the luxury of leading lives like these. That doesn't mean that the book doesn't speak to very real conflicts in the lives of people who were in their late twenties in the 1990s--just that its appeal is less universal than the publisher seems to think. It's been compared to Mary McCarthy's _The Group_, which I think is fair--but like that book, you will only really love this one if you identify strongly with the social group being described.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. M. Ayers on April 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I actually had to start this novel twice. By the first 75 pages I had no idea what was going on, so I restarted it. My second attempt was more successful-I finished the book. It was an interesting read, however, there were so many characters and some well-defined and some not so well defined. At times the book leaps ahead in time, ex, on one page a character finds out she is 10 weeks pregnant and she had two boyfriends and the very next page a new character named Jack is on her lap (this is her baby, spoken about on the page before and then we find out who she married. Since so many issues are defined to the nth degree, it makes the reader wonder why the pregnancy and some other equally important issues are not threshed out. Anyhow, the book goes on with the interelations of these college friends and their husbands/wives/friends and then a surprise death and then the ending just drops. It left me wanting a little bit more. All in all it was kind of a jumble of characters, ideas, ideology, etc.

If your reading time is limited, I wouldn't read this. However if you have plenty of time and like to read this book could be for you.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert Butscher on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I had a completely different take on this book than many reviewers. I liked it- tremendously- so much so that I found my self going in late to work just to read another chapter and getting honked at by the cars behind me as I was caught reading at stop lights.

While `A Fortunate Age' has been compared- by the author herself- to `The Group', this is not the irritatingly brilliant froth of Mary McCarthy's satire. It follows that book's structure and story lines but it's a darker, richer work, with greater empathy for the characters and a feeling that much more is at stake in their lives. It captures perfectly the transition to adulthood, the adjustments we make between our expensive overheated educations and the cold, hopeful reality of working life. And it captures the sense of time propelling us forward at that moment in life when we are just becoming aware that time exists at all- the moment when the decisions we make are made with less thought and carry more consequence than at any other time in our lives.

What is most remarkable about Rakoff's book is her prose. The sentences tunnel into the character's states of mind with a patient insistence. Her writing, though it pours out words like a fire hose, comes from a much earlier time. It has less in common with McCarthy's writing than it does with the careful line by line calibrations of emotion of Edith Wharton or Henry James (does its title echo his `An Awkward Age'?). This writing is definitely not for those with short attention spans. There are no snappy witticisms here and there is very little irony. Instead there's earnestness in the honest treatment of its characters that at times is heartbreaking.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Joanna Smith Rakoff very consciously sets out to emulate Mary McCarthy's wonderful book about a group of women, graduates of Vassar in the 1930s, as they forge their paths in the New York of the 30s and 40s. Alas, Rakoff's book -- about a group of young men and women who graduate from Oberlin in the 90s and try and create independent lives for themselves in turn of the (21st) century New York -- fails to measure up on nearly every front, and suffers by comparison.

McCarthy's characters are vividly alive, even today; Rakoff's are ho-hum stereotypes. It isn't just that they are unsympathetic -- oddly, I found one of the most unsympathetic of the lot, Dave, to be the most vividly drawn, while the most 'sane', wannabe actress Emily, ends up feeling to the reader like a chick lit character who has popped up in aspirational literary fiction. Even stereotypes can be well-crafted and make you care about them as characters, or at least care about the plot. Rather, Sadie and her circle of friends never spring to life at all, and their drifting and self-conscious musings, proclamations and posing ultimately become not only wearying but deeply irritating.

That would matter less if the plot were more fully defined. Living in the geographic area that Rakoff describes, and being part of roughly the same demographic (a few years older, but circulating in the same world), I can see and understand what the author is trying to portray. The problem? Each chapter ends up feeling like a posed set-piece, rather than an organic part of a whole. The end result is a work that is as self-conscious as its characters' pronouncements. Few of the plot developments feel surprising, some feel awkward or unnatural.
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