Dispatches from the Present: Dissecting The Past and The Futures

  I haven’t exactly made my penchant for novels featuring crumbling British aristocratic families on this site a secret (see here and hereand here, and also that The Pursuit of Love, Sense & Sensibility, and Love in a Cold Climate are among my favorite books), so it should come as no surprise that one of the novels I’m reviewing today is just that.

When my roommate, Caroline, told me she was reading The Past by Tessa Hadley, I looked it up and knew I had to add it to my list. The book is billed as a group of adult siblings’ final summer in the gorgeous but dilapidated English countryside estate they grew up visiting. Not only had I, just this past summer, lost the home my entire extended family and I grew up spending summers in, but also…it was a novel about the English countryside. Win-win.

For some reason, perhaps thanks to the title, before I began reading The Past, I sort of assumed it took place…in the past. In fact, it’s hard to tell until about twenty pages in, when Hadley mentions one of the characters’ anguish about the lack of iPhone service in the countryside. The book’s setting in present day was a welcome and interesting twist—but it did mean Hadley sacrificed the inclusion of the old-fashioned British humour I’ve come to know and love in such books (see: the father in The Pursuit of Love; one of the funniest book characters out there). What The Past lacked in old-timey charm, it compensated for in drama. The Past was replete with sexual intrigue and, in true British fashion (no offense, guys), severe repression of such urges. So many characters’ relationships with other, unexpected characters were shrouded in ambiguity that you’ll be turning the pages all the way to end to see what gets acted upon and what stays close to the vest…and the answers may surprise you.

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Though they are in two completely different classes of books, I thought condensing my reviews of The Past and The Futures into one post might make for a clever title. Make no mistake: The Futures is not a sequel. It’s not a British novel, either. It falls squarely into another preferred genre of mine: coming-of-age stories.

The Futures follows Anna and Evan, two college sweethearts from different sides of the tracks, who move to New York together after college, and realize how different they truly are. To be honest, this plotline was so tired to me that, despite getting my hands on an ARC, I dragged my feet on reading this until about two months after its actual release (such a good blogger).

Anna comes from a wealthy family in Brookline, a wealthy suburb twenty minutes outside of Boston. She went to Andover, she has a Labrador retriever, and her parents are friends with people who will help her get whatever job she wants. Her boyfriend, Evan, is from the middle of nowhere—a town in British Columbia, Canada, that Americans have likely never heard of—and he made his way to Yale via his talent for, you guessed it, hockey.

Anna and Evan meet on the first day of college—he spots her, perfect blonde hair tucked into a baseball cap, at a pizza shop—and the collegiate clichés don’t end with Commencement. Post-graduation, Anna gets a job working for a rich family friend’s foundation, and Evan “sells out” in Anna’s eyes by accepting a job at a prestigious hedge fund. When Anna begins to grow disillusioned with their relationship, an old college acquaintance (the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, a senior when she was a freshman, because, duh) reappears in her life and threatens to uproot everything she and Evan have built.

I blew through The Futures in about two days. While reading, I had two thoughts: the first being “Anna is such a whiny, entitled bitch,” and the second being “why is Evan putting up with Anna?” It was clear to me from the beginning that their relationship was doomed, and given Anna’s complete lack of redeeming qualities, I frankly had a difficult time caring about it at all.

For all of the book’s shortcomings, Pitoniak did an excellent job capturing the zeitgeist of New York City in 2007-2008, as Wall Street teetered on the precipice of the Great Recession. The economic shift and resulting tension serve as the book’s most successful plot device; Pitoniak successfully weaves financial stress, insider trading, layoffs, and beyond, into the narrative. As beach season approaches, this is a great choice for a light read, but it’s certainly not as groundbreaking as has been billed.

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