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lizmont2000
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

A Fortunate Age takes place at the turn of the millennium and portrays a time of cultural shift in conceptualizations of work, marriage, art, social class, and more. How does the tension between old and new play out in the novel? Which relationships among the book's characters are particularly representative of this shift? What role does technology play?


  

 

Everyone will go through a cultural shift between college and real life--I am surprised at how the girls react.

I expected Lil (after getting over her fem views about marriage), to really be a strong character. Driven and with a go-getter attitude. It seems like she lost all her spine. She made dinner when Tuck lost his job (and came home being an arse!)!! I almost put the book down for good. It was such a shift in how I felt Lil had been developed so far.

Maybe that is the point--when presented with something she (we) can't face or deal with (loss of job, death of dream), she reverts back to "what would June Cleaver do?".

I feel like they are all caught in a rift, floating about making decisions (or not making any decision) as if their acadamia never occurred, as if they never had to have goals or meet deadlines.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jon_B
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

This book is kind of funny for me because I am sort of on the tail end of the generation the book is about.  While the characters in A Fortunate Age had just finished grad programs or were in the beginning stages of their careers in the late 90's, early 00's, I was an undergrad during this time.  So there are some definite differences related to age (these characters are all in the center of what I think of as "Generation X" while I'm somewhere between X and Y)  but also a lot of things in the book that seem very close to my own life.  Especially since, like most of the characters in the book, I studied liberal arts and read/discussed many of the same things in school that these characters did at Oberlin.

 

And even though it's now several years later than when the book ends, a lot of the descriptions of New York are still funnily accurate.   When I came upon this passage I read it aloud to my girlfriend because I thought it was hilarious but all too true:

 

Sadie felt conscious of being a type - all these girls, these women, dressed just like she, wandering the streets carrying yoga mats and clear plastic cups of iced coffee and thick books of recent vintage, hair pulled back from thin faces with small, sparkly barrettes.  And the men, in their low-slung corduroys and wide-collared shirts, carrying messenger bags, or sitting in the garden at the L reading copies of McSweeney's or Philip K. Dick novels, stroking their sideburns.

 

While I don't live in Williamsburg, I must confess that I am a fan of both McSweeney's and Philip K. Dick, and I even have sideburns (I hate corduroys though).   And this female "type" that Rakoff describes here is very easy to come across in many parts of Brooklyn (and plenty of other cities).

 

But at the same time there's a large disconnectedness between my life and my friends lives, and the lives of the characters in this book.  And I think that disconnectedness has less to do with the late 90's or early 00's being different from today (it really wasn't) and more to do with the fact that this book is not just about this period, but very much about New York, and especially Brooklyn.   I've only lived in New York for a few months - I'm originally from San Francisco and lived most of my life there.  So a lot of the cultural subtext is somewhat foreign to me.  I don't know what it really means to come from an Upper East Side family.  I'd never heard anything about Scarsdale before opening this book.  While I happen to be Jewish, most of my friends are not and my family has never really been part of a Jewish community like some of those in this book.   And in San Francisco there isn't really such a thing as a traditionally Jewish neighborhood like some of the places described in this book.   In a way, New York feels very "old world" to me.  The divisions of race and class are a lot more pronounced.  That's not really something that is explicitly described in the book - in fact I think the characters would not be conscious of it and would certainly never mention it - but it's still there in the background, and it does seem to be a reasonably realistic portrayal of New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KxBurns
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age


thewanderingjew wrote:

I think I am kind of with you. The time line seemed off or the players were on the wrong stage. I knew a couple of people like that but they would have been the exception and not the rule. Certainly there wouldn't be a group of random parents that were like that who just all also happened to have children who were a bit spoiled. Maybe it is just a stereotype being portrayed.

twj


eileen100 wrote:
I'm wondering if this "fortunate age" is portraying the infamous Gen-Xers. Someone please clue me in. I'm a baby boomer myself, and I find that this novel's stereotype of the group's boomer parents as pot-smoking, liberal-thinking hippies is a far cry from the average 60s person I went to college with. This makes me wonder if the members of the group are being stereotyped as well: as shallow status-seekers who can't seem to make up their minds about anything important.

 


 

But maybe it's not random that children who connect and become friends might have similar parents, and this is not necessarily representative of the boomer generation as a whole, just as the main characters are only representative of a segment of their own generation. This group of parents all raised children that ascribe to similar ideals and chose the same college, one with an identity so defined it remains their touchstone many years after graduation. 

 

That said, I didn't think all the parents were the same. Lil's parents are just as indulgent as the others but they don't really seem like hippies; Tal's parents sound fairly conservative in their views and their expectations of him; Sadie's parents, of course, represent another generation entirely. I think Smith Rakoff does present some variety in the depiction of the parents. Is there a common thread in their hopes for their children?

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KxBurns
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age


CLRobins42 wrote:

[edited] I also can't help but view this  story through the lens of hindsight.  The description of Boom Town's offices (flip flops, late starts, bean bag chairs) were all too common when I was looking for my first job.  Anyone who worked in these places was envied.  Of course, when the tech bubble burst, those of us with boring, mundane jobs like our parents still had those boring, mundane jobs and could still afford our rents.  I like that the cultural situation is mimicking the emotional ones of the characters.  You know a bubble is going to burst for these people, the same way the tech bubble was bound to burst.


Wonderful insight! 

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KxBurns
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age


onyx9 wrote:

jpock wrote:
I'm a midwesterner, too, and I found myself wondering if that was why I couldn't get a grasp on these people.  Are we flatland, midwestern folk too practical for all of the silliness that these characters portray?  Hmmm...

 

Ohhh, thank you all for saying that, I was thinking I was just missing something.  I could somewhat relate to parts of the characters (being of the same generation), but there is a lot of regional stuff that left me scratching my head in wonder. 

 

I agree, th stereotyping makes it difficult to completely connect with any of the characters.

 


Interesting observations that point to another aspect of the cultural milieu: as GSB65 puts it, the where as opposed to the when. We'll discuss this in greater detail when we discuss New York -- as midwesterners, I'm looking forward to your thoughts on that thread!

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Shadowwolf36
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

I agree completely. I said on another thread that I felt "stupid" or "out of it" because I didn't know what the characters (or author) felt I should know and didn't read what they felt I should read or feel what they felt I should feel. Once I got past feeling inferior in someway, I started to enjoy the characters as they developed.
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KxBurns
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age


mapleann wrote:
The “Fortunate Age” culture:  To gain membership one must pledge as a social inferior according to the values of the baby boomers, be rebellious while remaining invisible, promote irresponsibility as responsible when it promotes social change and challenges the status quo; and members may only reach professional success, the breaking of intangible barriers, through entrepreneurial modes, and all while fighting corporate mentality. 

 

The "fortunate age" is a self imposed Hobson's choice. It remind me of a writer's, or artist's or philosophizer's, dilemma of wanting publishing success and recognition for ones work, but that would ultimately mean altering ones work to please a mass market audience; the writer becomes nothing more than a mountebank. Endorsing any of the ideals that their parents' generation upholds would invalidate their own ideals, marriage for example.


You're spot-on with this, mapleann. This generation aspires to success and happiness just like their parents, but looks down on conventional modes of attaining such things. The technological revolution offered a route to financial success that seemed exciting and innovative, evidenced by the reverence for Ed Slikowski displayed by the group and others. But the techno bubble does not live up to its promise.

 

In many ways, Lil and Tuck's relationship embodies the conflict between old and new approaches to life. In their marriage, they attempt to find personal happiness through a more conventional route, a choice that is met with disdain by other members of the group. Professionally, the two represent opposite ends of the old-versus-new spectrum, with Lil remaining in academia while Tuck strikes out into new media. Lil's first great disillusionment with Tuck is his rejection of the scholarly ideals she continues to value. The couple is met with failure on all fronts -- why do you think this is?

 

Compare Lil and Tuck with Beth, who is ultimately able to achieve some success with a more nuanced approach. Her scholarly aspirations actually deal with popular culture; her marriage to a tweedy, Oxford-educated journalist who happens to be deeply ensconced in the world of new media is likewise unconventional. Beth is able to blend old and new while Lil and Tuck seem trapped in their polarities. What message does this convey?  

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KxBurns
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

[ Edited ]

Great comments, Jon_B! I especially like your observation that:

 

"The divisions of race and class are a lot more pronounced.  That's not really something that is explicitly described in the book - in fact I think the characters would not be conscious of it and would certainly never mention it - but it's still there in the background, and it does seem to be a reasonably realistic portrayal of New York."

 

How are the divisions between races and classes subtly alluded to in the book?

Message Edited by KxBurns on 01-06-2009 11:13 AM
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dhaupt
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

While I had trouble with some of the descriptions of New York, being a midwesterner myself, I found the characters very in line with that of my daughters age that is being very me orientated especially at that time in their lives, after college and before their "real ilves" begin.

It also takes place in an era just before or just during when all the big .comers went broke and just prior to 9/11 so the attitude we saw at first doesn't really exist any more.

 

I'm afraid to say any more not knowing if you want feelings of the entire book revealed yet.

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bookclubclassics
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

When you mentioned  "New York life seems to be so much different than Midwest life.  I don't think I could relate"  I had to respond...

 

I'm getting to where I dread reading books set in NYC -- I know the characters will most likely tie their status if not self-worth to what specific borough or street they live in (blah, blah, blah...)

 

I think there is a certain myopia that occurs in NYC (at least in fiction) that seems stale and out-dated -- or maybe just "adolescent"?  Isn't it a sign of maturity to realize our place in the world -- not only globally, but spiritually?  Just a thought...

 

 

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Chatterbox
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

KGalles, I know what you are talking about -- and here I sit typing these words in Brooklyn, yet... :-) The Astoria element -- Beth's isolation in a "non-place" at the same time that she has messed up her career prospects and is tying herself into an odd relationship -- it's all too symbolic.

 

In this case, however, the myopia/insularity seems to have begun at Oberlin among this clique and stuck with them when they migrated to New York -- and specifically, to the self-consciously edgy fringes of New York.

 

I kept wondering whether the "fortunate age" is meant to apply to the age these characters are when the book opens -- i.e. to be in one's 20s -- or to the age in which they are experiencing being in their 20s -- the late 1990s. In either case it is (apologies for the phrase) ironic. We know that the boom of the late 1990s came to a crashing halt (foreshadowed in Tuck's job loss) and we know that our 20s aren't such a great time, really, because that is when we are figuring out what it is that we really want and who it is that we really are.

 

I found the contrast between this generation and their parents on page 4 to be far too banal and self conscious to feel "real". Don't tell me this stuff, show me through the action in the book! Indeed, when I had all this laid out for me in the first few pages, I closed the book and didn't reopen it for days, I was so irritated.

 

Essentially, I suppose I'm not convinced that the author is really showing me a zeitgeist at all, whether she intends the fortunate age to be a period in time or a generation of young people in their 20s.

 

(FYI, I would have been in my 30s in the 1990s, and working with some of the real-life equivalents of these fictional characters.)

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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

Chatterbox -- Thank you for reminding me of how miserable the 20's can be!  Once I read that line in your post I thought, "Oh yeah...  the 20's really ARE tough..." and I suddenly felt more compassionate toward ALL of the characters!

 

I'm nearing the end of my 30's and am so relieved to not be nearing my 30's!  :smileyhappy:  Thanks for the reminder -- and for the shot of compassion... 

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Chatterbox
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

KGalles, yes, I keep wanting to go back in time and give my 25-year-old self a kick in the butt and a good dose of self-confidence. It certainly is not a fortunate age, even for those "fortunate" enough to know what they want to do -- because usually they don't know how they will accomplish that!

 

So perhaps I should have more compassion on the characters, because I did want to shake most of them for being simultaneously rather intellectually obnoxious (see p. 4) and self righteous about the things they feel they are entitled to and possess (Tuck on his job at Boom Time). Gah.

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maylou
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

That is so interesting your raise that point!

 

Many 20- and 30-somethings in NYC tend to tie their self-worth to what borough (and some to the subway stop) they live in.  However, I've found that they tend to be post-college transplants to the five boroughs striving for some street cred rather than bred New Yorkers. 

 

I can't tell you how many times I've raised my eyebrows when I hear some new arrival take some point of pride to living in Brooklyn or downtown Manhattan and then savaging another borough even though they have yet set foot on it.  Or lay claim to the nonsense of never going above 14th Street. 

 

Incredibly provincial and insecure.  


bookclubclassics wrote:

When you mentioned  "New York life seems to be so much different than Midwest life.  I don't think I could relate"  I had to respond...

 

I'm getting to where I dread reading books set in NYC -- I know the characters will most likely tie their status if not self-worth to what specific borough or street they live in (blah, blah, blah...)

 

I think there is a certain myopia that occurs in NYC (at least in fiction) that seems stale and out-dated -- or maybe just "adolescent"?  Isn't it a sign of maturity to realize our place in the world -- not only globally, but spiritually?  Just a thought...


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Chatterbox
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

Maylou, ROTFL, yes. I moved  to NY in 1993, and ended up in Carroll Gardens before Smith Street became trendy. One NY friend was briefly in Brooklyn, but moved to Manhattan because her pediatrician (!!!) gave her attitude. Then you get people telling you seriously that they never go north of Chelsea (they've had to expand horizons bec. so many art galleries are in the West 20s now, they explain very seriously....) What, will their noses bleed if they venture too far north?

 

Sorry for the digression -- although it isn't, really, because there is the same kind of Brooklyn-Queens contrast here. Astoria vs the L line/Bedford.

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Jon_B
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

[ Edited ]

Chatterbox wrote:

Maylou, ROTFL, yes. I moved  to NY in 1993, and ended up in Carroll Gardens before Smith Street became trendy. One NY friend was briefly in Brooklyn, but moved to Manhattan because her pediatrician (!!!) gave her attitude. Then you get people telling you seriously that they never go north of Chelsea (they've had to expand horizons bec. so many art galleries are in the West 20s now, they explain very seriously....) What, will their noses bleed if they venture too far north?


 

Well I work in Chelsea and I usually walk up to 38th street on Wednesday nights to meet some friends and I hate it once I get north of 33rd street because all of a sudden it's insanely crowded and it takes like 10 minutes just to walk one block! 
Message Edited by Jon_B on 01-06-2009 01:24 PM
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Melissa_W
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

I'm going to echo Jon here.  I haven't gotten very far into the book - just past Lil and Tuck's wedding - but I find that much of the narrative hits home for someone who's supposed to be a yuppie Gen-Xer.  I'm stuck somewhere in the murk that is a little young for a solid GenX but wouldn't be caught dead associating with my little brothers as a GenY - I'm 30 and finished my undergrad in May 2000 (does that help?).  As a type, we're supposed to be intellectual and culturally conscious, we want to save the world as long as we can wear our flip-flops and drink fair-trade Starbucks. 

 

In reality I loathe flip-flops with a passion but I'm pretty intellectual and I like fair-trade coffee (not necessarily from Starbucks).  What I'm getting from the young women in the novel is that they are in the golden period after college when all one's dreams seem possible.  When you don't have to worry about getting the kids to bed, or the baby with colic, or that you'll be canned in a downturn because your salary is too expensive (you're young and hungry so you'll work for cheap).  I had dreams, too, and let me tell you when they don't come true you really have to start re-evaluating who you are and what you want to do with your life other than wallow in self-pity.  Lil's engagement/wedding seems to be the starting point for self-evaluation by the other characters.

 

I also don't quite get the subtext that's inferred from the geography of New York and I'm assuming that's a 'only in New York' thing.  I'm an Iowan and we just don't have the cultural enclaves anymore (there were immigrant pockets in the 19th century - Norweigian or Czech-Slovak/Bohemian, etc. - but you don't hear Slav dialects when you walk down the streets of Little Bohemia in Cedar Rapids).


Jon_B wrote:

This book is kind of funny for me because I am sort of on the tail end of the generation the book is about.  While the characters in A Fortunate Age had just finished grad programs or were in the beginning stages of their careers in the late 90's, early 00's, I was an undergrad during this time.  So there are some definite differences related to age (these characters are all in the center of what I think of as "Generation X" while I'm somewhere between X and Y)  but also a lot of things in the book that seem very close to my own life.  Especially since, like most of the characters in the book, I studied liberal arts and read/discussed many of the same things in school that these characters did at Oberlin.

 

But at the same time there's a large disconnectedness between my life and my friends lives, and the lives of the characters in this book.  And I think that disconnectedness has less to do with the late 90's or early 00's being different from today (it really wasn't) and more to do with the fact that this book is not just about this period, but very much about New York, and especially Brooklyn.   I've only lived in New York for a few months - I'm originally from San Francisco and lived most of my life there.  So a lot of the cultural subtext is somewhat foreign to me.  I don't know what it really means to come from an Upper East Side family.  I'd never heard anything about Scarsdale before opening this book.  While I happen to be Jewish, most of my friends are not and my family has never really been part of a Jewish community like some of those in this book.   And in San Francisco there isn't really such a thing as a traditionally Jewish neighborhood like some of the places described in this book.   In a way, New York feels very "old world" to me.  The divisions of race and class are a lot more pronounced.  That's not really something that is explicitly described in the book - in fact I think the characters would not be conscious of it and would certainly never mention it - but it's still there in the background, and it does seem to be a reasonably realistic portrayal of New York.

 


 

Melissa W.
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LEmartin
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

I also can't help but view this  story through the lens of hindsight.  The description of Boom Town's offices (flip flops, late starts, bean bag chairs) were all too common when I was looking for my first job.  Anyone who worked in these places was envied.  Of course, when the tech bubble burst, those of us with boring, mundane jobs like our parents still had those boring, mundane jobs and could still afford our rents.  I like that the cultural situation is mimicking the emotional ones of the characters.  You know a bubble is going to burst for these people, the same way the tech bubble was bound to burst.

*******************************************************************

I completely agree... all through the book I was thinking about the upcoming burst of the tech bubble and wondering if there would be a parallel event in the lives of the characters that would make them "grow up" and become responsible adults. I am a member of Gen X and remember seeing in some of my college peers the academic superiority coupled with loose ties to reality that the characters portray, but I have a hard time stomaching the idea of pretentious idealism in people whose parents are paying the bills.  Of course, I too opted for a "boring, mundane" job out of college and then got an MBA.  I found myself relating to the characters at Lil and Tuck's party who were talking about start-ups and the young entrepreneurs who were making names for themselves, but our main characters' eyes glazed over when anyone talked about anything as boring as business.  I related to Lil in that she seemed "born in a book store" but I never thought anyone was going to pay me to read all day - I probably should be more tolerant of the characters in this book but I found myself getting annoyed at how irresponsible their decisions were.

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thewanderingjew
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

You make a really good point about the similarities not being random, that I overlooked. I am a lot older than most of you posting and my interest in reading this was because my kids, who are a year apart, were the same age as the characters in the mid to late 90's. When I thought about your comment I realized that I was friends with a lot of the parents of their friends and some friendships developed from parent to child and some from child to parent. I am still friends with many of them so perhaps we all had similar values and goals for our kids.
My kids and most of my friend's kids were apparently not as well off economically as the characters in the book, or maybe not as brave or willing to live without certain amenities because our kids came home for about a year after school and saved their money so they could get an apartment and then in order to afford it they had scads of roommates and the apartments were divided so 4 and 5 shared a two bedroom or two shared a studio! Maybe the characters in the book were subsidized by their parents and that was why they seemed ill equipped for the realities of life to me.
When my kids went back for their Masters, at Columbia, they came home to live again. Maybe some would consider that coddling them. Actually, they were lucky then because I was living some place else at the time and they had the house to themselves. It worked for me because they maintained it. During my son's second year, I took an apartment in NY and he shared it with us. We didn't use it much so he had his privacy. I know the kids went out at night, their evenings began after I went to bed sometimes, but if I knew that they behaved the way the characters in the book behaved, I never would have been able to sleep at night! I think it is healthier for parents to live apart from adult children for many reasons! One of them is that they can have their secrets and we can have ours!
I have a feeling that their are going to be a lot of surprises in the books in the way the characters and the story develops and I am looking forward to reading more.
twj

KxBurns wrote:

But maybe it's not random that children who connect and become friends might have similar parents, and this is not necessarily representative of the boomer generation as a whole, just as the main characters are only representative of a segment of their own generation. This group of parents all raised children that ascribe to similar ideals and chose the same college, one with an identity so defined it remains their touchstone many years after graduation.

 

That said, I didn't think all the parents were the same. Lil's parents are just as indulgent as the others but they don't really seem like hippies; Tal's parents sound fairly conservative in their views and their expectations of him; Sadie's parents, of course, represent another generation entirely. I think Smith Rakoff does present some variety in the depiction of the parents. Is there a common thread in their hopes for their children?


 

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jthamlin
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Re: The Zeitgeist of the Fortunate Age

I thoroughly enjoyed A Fortunate Age and feel that overall it reflected the times accurately.  As with all books there will be certain aspects you can relate to and others that are totally foreign.  I do feel that the members of the social circle were often times looking down their noses at those who attended what they feel are bottom rung universities.  This snobbery aside I could relate to the characters and their struggle to make life decisions and to deal with the inevitable family issues that arise.
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