Review: THE FUTURES by Anna Pitoniak (Lee Boudreaux Books/Michael Joseph)

PitoniakA-TheFuturesUSAn interesting, engaging novel about a young couple whose hopes and dreams must confronting cold reality in New York…

Julia and Evan fall in love as undergraduates at Yale. For Evan, a scholarship student from a rural Canadian town, Yale is a whole new world, and Julia — blond, beautiful, and rich — fits perfectly into the future he’s envisioned for himself. After graduation, and on the eve of the great financial meltdown of 2008, they move together to New York City, where Evan lands a job at a hedge fund. But Julia, whose privileged upbringing grants her an easy but wholly unsatisfying job with a nonprofit, feels increasingly shut out of Evan’s secretive world.

With the market crashing and banks failing, Evan becomes involved in a high-stakes deal at work — a deal that, despite the assurances of his Machiavellian boss, begins to seem more than slightly suspicious. Meanwhile, Julia reconnects with someone from her past who offers a glimpse of a different kind of live. As the economy craters, and as Evan and Julia spin into their separate orbits, they each find that they are capable of much more — good and bad — than they’d ever imagined.

This novel has received an incredible amount of early buzz — I’ve seen it mentioned and praised since early 2016. Naturally, this made me curious, and I was lucky enough to get an eARC a little while ago. Overall, this is an enjoyable, well-written novel set in New York.

There is a lot to like about The Futures. Pitoniak’s prose is excellent, flows well and never gives in to temptations to be florid or over-wrought. Her characters are, for the main, very interesting to spend time with. Evan and Julia are realistic: they are flawed, but not because they “should” be; they react in ways completely in keeping with the characters as they have been portrayed and constructed. There are some predictable elements to the novel, but Pitoniak works with these tropes deftly and sometimes with new twists (at least, new in my limited experience of this particular sub-genre).

The novel’s structure works very well, and the author stages the reveals and situational embellishment expertly. The ‘present’ thread of the novel is broken up with flashbacks to the couple’s early years — the honeymoon period at the beginning, followed by teasing glimpses at how and when the relationship started to experience cracks and disappointments. Not all is as it seems, however, and neither character is a saint nor a villain. (My sympathies did lie, mostly, with one of them, though.)

pitoniaka-futuresukPitoniak’s portrayal of Evan and Julia’s relationship is insightful, nuanced, and in many ways sympathetic. Their breakdown in communication is perhaps inevitable, but I never got a sense of biblio-deja vu (that feeling when you are convinced you’ve read a novel before, only by a different author).

Evan is highly driven, and accepts the life- and soul-consuming nature of entry-level finance jobs. He gives up so much personal time, and time with Julia, in order to stand above the pack, get noticed and increase his earning power (not not get fired — he’s in the US on a work permit). Julia is frustrated in her quest to find (and keep) a well-paying job in the City. Both character’s arcs are all well-done.

However, given my own, often frustrated attempts to find fulfilling, well-paying work in London, New York and now Toronto, I couldn’t help but think Julia’s ennui arrived premature — merely a handful of months, before spiralling into depression and drink? This was slightly annoying, as it reduced my sympathy for her. She came across as entitled, especially given that she didn’t seem to be making as much effort as someone else might in her situation. I think this was on purpose. I often felt that Pitoniak did not want the reader to fully sympathize with Julia, and that maybe she was meant to represent a naïve, entitled, privileged and thus-far-inexperienced-with-failure millennial. She is not delusional, however, and I frequently sympathized with her Sisyphean experience:

“I’m trying, okay? Trying isn’t the problem.” That was true, but it was an aimless kind of trying. I had applied for all sorts of jobs, anything that seemed remotely likely, but there was no unifying theme. The HR departments could probably sense the dispassion in my cover letters.

The fact that Julia is from a privileged background, while Evan is not, could be seen as a lazy device — the one floating blithely through life, until she runs into a brick wall; the other pulling himself up by his bootstraps, committing himself wholly to overcoming his upbringing and perceptions thereof. I think Pitoniak does a better job than many other authors of not presenting it this way, or at least undermining this impression should the reader arrive there.

Over the course of the novel, I got the impression that Evan remained more invested in the relationship than Julia, and it took much longer for his rose-tinted glasses to be removed. As he analyses his situation and relationship, he is forced to reassess the breakdown of a college friendship. Here’s a relevant passage:

“In our tiny new living room that first night in New York, I looked over at Julia. She had her hands on her hips, head cocked to one side, deciding where to hang the pictures. I felt such a rush of love at that moment, watching our new life become real. It wasn’t a fluke, the way I felt about her. We were meant to be.

“But Arthur’s words were back again. Fresh and whole, like a submarine breaking through the surface. Had he been right all along? Self-centered. Self-pitying. Julia had an independent streak that I’d always liked, but since graduation, it had hardened into something else. A life so separate that I wasn’t even part of it.”

That was a bit of a diversion. There are a lot of passages, chapters or scenes in the novel that struck me, and have stayed with me (I read this a couple of months ago). It is a very accomplished, very good novel. I count myself among those who are eagerly awaiting Pitoniak’s next novel. She is definitely an author to watch.

Overall, then, I enjoyed this. It’s very well-written, and while not the most original take on the young in New York sub-genre, I found it engaging and never felt bored. It struck chords, and I felt the characters were relatable and interesting.

Certainly recommended.

*

The Futures is published in North America by Lee Boudreaux Books, on January 17th, 2017; and in the UK by Michael Joseph, on May 4th, 2017.

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