Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Review: "The Futures" by Anna Pitoniak

I don't think of myself as particularly old, but there are times when I hear people talk about situations or see them behave in a certain way, and I think to myself, "Was I ever that young?" But then, when I reflect on their particular situation, the memories come flooding back, and I realize that at some point I really was that young. Egads.

Reading Anna Pitoniak's debut novel The Futures, I felt nostalgic. It's not so much that I necessarily want to go back to the time just after college, trying to make it in "the real world," but it reminded me of those days when crises and relationships and roadblocks always seemed so much more intense.

When Evan and Julia meet as undergraduates at Yale, they're very different. Julia, a daughter of privilege, who was raised in New England, sees Yale as just another step in her upbringing, even if she sees herself as more independent than many of her classmates, not quite of the same ilk. Evan, who came to Yale on a hockey scholarship from a small town in British Columbia, is drawn to Julia, first as friends, then as lovers. And while their differences cause some rough patches in their relationship, the two date throughout college, and when Evan gets a job at a leading hedge fund after graduation, he asks Julia to move to New York with him.

In 2008, when they move to New York, the world is in an interesting place. Evan finds himself hand-picked for a secret, high-stakes, risky deal by one of his bosses, and it promises to provide a substantial payoff, despite the all-consuming financial crisis. But as Evan works harder and harder to stay in his boss' good graces, and be seen as a valuable member of the team, he starts to wonder if everything they're doing, everything they're asking him to do, is on the up-and-up. The job consumes him, which takes its toll on his and Julia's relationship.

Julia, meanwhile, feels rudderless. She doesn't know what she wants to do career-wise, and more and more, she starts to wonder whether Evan is even what she wants, as she feels them drifting apart and she resents him for having a sense of his place in the world. When she lands an entry-level job at a nonprofit foundation, it doesn't really provide her the satisfaction that she's seeking; instead, it sharpens the differences between her path and Evan's, and it sticks her in the midst of other scandals and drama.

When Julia runs into an old Yale classmate, she is drawn to him because of all of the ways he is unlike Evan, who is utterly oblivious to her anyway. But when we make the decision to run away from something rather than toward something, it never quite runs as smoothly as we hope. And as Evan feels he is losing control of his future, he doesn't realize exactly where he is most vulnerable.

In The Futures, Pitoniak skillfully captures the fears, the emotions, the hopes, and the disappointments of recent college graduates, and really catches the anxieties which pervaded our world in 2008. Her characters feel authentic—you can feel the indecision, the unhappiness, the uncertainty that the first major relationship we have can bring about. There is one drawback though: these characters are so accurately depicted that they're not always sympathetic, so sometimes you want to slap them and tell them to act like adults, or just talk to each other.

I thought Pitoniak did a good job with this book, although I felt some of the plot was a bit predictable for me. But she has an ear for dialogue and capturing emotions, and I liked that she didn't rely on too much melodrama to move things forward. I'm definitely looking forward to what's next in her career.

NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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