Friday, April 24, 2009

A Disjointed Structure Handicaps a Smart Character Study--Joanna Smith Rakoff's "A Fortunate Age"

"A Fortunate Age" follow of group of friends from the Oberlin class of 94 in the late 90s and early 00s as they pursue their dreams in NYC. The novel centers around 6 friends, Lil, Beth, Emily, Sadie, Tal, and Dave--and slowly works in their larger circle of friends and family. As the novel progresses, each of the characters realizes the dreams and ideals they developed in their late 20s are unattainable--whether its a career, a great love, or an art. Eventually, in the shadow of 9/11 they all come to terms with their personal failures after a personal tragedy shakes them all. 

Joanna Smith Rakoff has a wonderful way of capturing people, so this book--her first novel--has rich character descriptions and wonderfully captures the way relationships ebb and flow between people over time. However, the novel lacks the continuous narrative thread that I feel is critical to a real great work. Instead of feeling like one book, A Fortunate Age felt like a collection of short stories told by different characters, an effect that was heightened by the long chapters--there were only 15 in 400 pages of text. At the end of each story, there was no resolution of the character's narrative, and even though you would expect important story elements to be resolved in the next chapter, it never happened, leaving this reader feeling confused and the story disjointed. By the end of the novel I was frustrated because I felt like their were just too many gaps in the story for me to be able to really enjoy it. 

I would be interested to read other, perhaps shorter works by Rakoff, because I think she is a talented writer. However, the structure of this novel just didn't work for me.

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