Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Joanna Smith Rakoff has cast a brilliant and glittering spell with this fierce debut. Her social observations are not only spot-on but often wickedly funny... She has captured both a generation and a landscape, and I'm still marveling at how she managed to pull off this page-turning cocktail of intelligence and desire." Joanna Hershon, author of The German Bride
"A wonderful, funny and spot-on portrait of my clumsy generation that brings to mind such hallmarks as Mary McCarthy's The Group, Jay McInerney's Brightness Falls, and Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children." Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook
"Rakoff's mesmerizing debut opens with a wedding and closes with a funeral. In between, the novel provides a pitch perfect portrait of the generation that came of age in the 1990s. If this smart, thoroughly absorbing novel recalls The Group, it also recalls the seminal work of Anne Beattie in the seventies and Jay McInerney in the eighties. Like them, Rakoff captures a certain time and place with heartbreaking clarity." Booklist (starred)
"I'm in awe: at the assurance of Joanna Smith Rakoff's writing, the richness of her language, and the enthralling grip of this story. I'm excited the way you can only be excited by a big, thick novel you want to hibernate away with and not come out until you're done." Thisbe Nissen, author of The Good People of New York and Osprey Island
"An entertaining, updated look at artistic-minded young people progressing toward adulthood in New York. As they experience marriage, children, dot-com busts, infidelities, alcohol abuse, personal tragedies, professional successes, and other common experiences of twenty-somethings in the mid-1990s, Rakoff objectively and deftly chronicles all of it." Library Journal
About the Author
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.