Fresh Talent: A Fortunate Age by Joanna Rakoff

Fresh Talent: A Fortunate Age by Joanna Rakoff

A Fortunate Age – Joanna Rakoff

Living in crumbling Brooklyn apartments, holding down jobs as actors and writers and eschewing the middle-class sensibilities of their parents, graduates of the prestigious Oberlin College, Lil, Beth, Sadie, Emily, Dave and Tal believe they can have it all.

When the group come together to celebrate a marriage, anything seems possible. But soon the reality of rent, marriage and family will test them all. For this fortunate age can’t last forever, and the group must face adulthood, whether they are ready for it or not.

Sprawling and richly drawn, A Fortunate Age traces the lives of the group during some of the most defining years of modern America – from the decadence of the dot com boom through to the sobering events of September 11 and the trailing years that followed – this brilliant, ambitious debut novel perfectly captures the hopes, anxieties and dreams of a generation.

Joanna Rakoff Biography

Joanna Rakoff is a poet and the author of the critically-acclaimed memoir My Salinger Year.

She was the recipient of the Goldberg Prize for Fiction and the Elle Readers’ Prize. As a journalist and critic, she has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, Time Out and O: The Oprah Magazine.

The BBC produced a radio documentary following her as she tracked down the writer of her favourite Salinger fan letter.

She has degrees from Columbia University, University College London and Oberlin College. Joanna Rakoff lives in Cambridge, MA

Joanna Rakoff on the Inspiration Behind A Fortunate Age

In September 2001, I had recently started a job at one of my favorite magazines—a dream job, really—and my life seemed, after years of youthful fumbling, to be falling into place. As did that of my friends in New York, all of them writers, actors, painters, artists of one stripe or another, who were just now beginning to sign their first book contracts and land their first Broadway roles. All summer, we’d toasted our good fortune over dinners at the chic new restaurants lining the streets of Brooklyn and my neighborhood, the Lower East Side, where, one hundred years earlier, my great grandfather had sold black bread from a pushcart. The city, to us—to me—seemed a Utopia, a realm of infinite pleasure and possibility.

Then, one morning, as I sat at my desk sipping a cup of lukewarm coffee, the editor whose desk adjoined mine came running into the office, his face red with alarm. “I just saw the craziest thing,” he said, breathlessly, shaking his head. “I don’t– I can’t– A plane—“ I frowned at him, uncomprehendingly. “This plane was flying so low it looked like it was going to hit the buildings. I don’t.” A moment later, we heard the news. In the conference room, we gathered, staring at grainy images of the destruction, our mouths open in shock. Silently, we gathered our things and walked home—downtown, to the Lower East Side and Brooklyn–through clouds of gray ash.

A week later, when we returned to work, our boss—the magazine’s publisher—called us into a conference room and explained that the magazine would be closing. The main investor had pulled out, in light of the markets. A skeleton staff would be kept on to close out the remaining issue, but the rest of us—including me, the newest hire—were free to go.

And so we went, into the streets still clouded with ash, our eyes still swollen from tears, into streets crowded with posters of the missing, clogged with others like ourselves—let go from the various businesses decimated by the crash–gutted with a sense of loss, dazed with the knowledge that the world had changed in some irrevocable way.

Now, my friends and I sat around the terraces of bars, our hands gone cold from the drinks they held, staring helplessly at our feet. Not only had our fragile early successes been—in many cases—ripped away from us, but our desire for them—for the gallery show, the recording contract—seemed childish and superficial.

I’d moved to New York six years earlier—out of a sense that one couldn’t morph into a writer any place else—and worked, earnestly, on tough, lyric poems and a tough, political novel set in Algeria, a novel that I couldn’t, no matter what, wrest into shape, though the truth was that I didn’t work hard enough to wrest it into shape. I was lazy and easily distracted by those dinner parties, by theater tickets, and summer sales, and concerts in the park. Distracted, of course, by New York itself.

But suddenly, in that changed city—that changed world—I saw that I could no longer afford to be distracted or lazy. And I saw, too, that New York itself was my subject. This new, sober New York allowed me to see, fully, the gilded era—flush with tech and banking money that had filtered down into every industry, every arm of city life—which had preceded it and which seemed, now, like an innocent’s dream.

The following spring, I began writing A Fortunate Age, which I conceived as an attempt to chronicle that dream—and its aftermath—through the lives of six friends, all artists of one stripe or another, bent on defining themselves in direct opposition to their bourgeois parents, whose lives take unexpected turns during both the dot com boom and the crash that followed. My direct model was Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which follows a clique of Vassar grads who move to New York during the Depression, but I also had in mind my favorite Victorian and Edwardian novels — Daniel Deronda, Pride and Prejudice, The Forsyte Saga, to name a few — which brilliantly dissect both the mores of the middle class and the ways in which money — both our personal finances and the larger economic climate–defines our lives in infinite, incalculable ways.

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