Wednesday, 3 May 2017
#TheFutures #AnnaPitoniak #Review
I requested this book absolutely months ago and I am kicking myself for having left it so long until I read it. When I finished the last page I let out a really long sigh - you know the way you do when a book has come to an end and you're not really ready to leave it behind. This is a good book.
Well, it's better than good. This is story of Julia and Evan. Just graduated and in love, they move to New York to start their life together and follow the shared future they have dreamed about. But the course of true love never did run smooth; the expectations and aspirations we have often don't match those of our partner or opportunities don't present themselves in the way we thought. This is a love story but it's not always a happy story.
There were some passages I found really hard to read; some that resonated, some that were uncomfortable, some which challenged my opinions of the characters, some which made me want to shout at Julia and shake Evan and other parts that made me melt. It is honest, reflective, insightful and intelligent. I can honestly say I enjoyed every word.
From the outset there is an atmosphere of lethargy lingering underneath the sentences. There is a sense that the relationship between Julia and Evan is not equal - financially and emotionally. For Julia money came like "a spring whose source was bountiful and deep" yet for Evan "money came like water from a pump, flowing only as long as I kept working".
Emotionally, or perhaps psychologically, they are also different. Julia is nearer her family and closer to her parents where as Evan comes from a small town that "isn't easy to get to and isn't easy to leave". I found his comment that "people [from his town] aren't allowed to change much" interesting as it captures something of his personality. Evan is cautious - he is obedient, follows the rules and does what is expected of him. Yet conversely, he has moved a long way from home and moved in with a girl who some of his friends have reservations about. He's got a good, high pressured job with a Hedge Fund Firm which trades on risks and chances, and he is living in New York. But how much can he change? His underlying need for assurance, security and routine are perhaps what lead to Julia's frustrations with him. He is flawed and Julia's comments about him are fair if a little cruel:
....he upheld his end of the bargain. He checked the boxes required of him. And if there were no further boxes to check, he probably assumed he'd done everything he needed to do.
Because the novel is written in alternating chapters between both Julia and Evan we see the relationship from each characters point of view. Both narratives are in first person and both voices are distinctive and individual which makes it a really fascinating read as Pitoniak is really able to explore every aspect of the couple's life together.
Initially I think we are encouraged to side with Julia, although her acceptance of the inevitability of their situation rather than perhaps the excitement of 'first flush' of love once again sets the tone for this relationship and indicates the tension that is set to develop over time.
What else was I going to do? He had a job and a place to be. I didn't, but I had him. I could feel the tremors of change even before we graduated, growing more pronounced as the date approached: time to get serious. We'd been dating for more that three years and we loved each other.........maybe taking the plunge would repair whatever hairline crack had already appeared between us, in the late months of senior year. Double or nothing.
I felt for Julia as she started her new life with Evan only to find she is left at home alone more often than taken out with him. She is slower to find a job and then it is practically given to her through family friends. It's not a great job and she is not nurtured or inspired there. As Evan becomes totally dominated by his high pressured, stressful job, Julia finds herself spending long evenings at home and their lives becoming more and more separate. Her sense of boredom, disappointment and almost apathy are very well evoked and it is very easy to judge Evan for neglecting his girlfriend.
But then, there is still a strong sense that Julia and Evan are in love. They illustrate how a relationship can so easily settle into a pattern or a routine - or how it can be taken for granted "like the subways running regularly or the water coming out of the faucet". They do fit together well, they do have their separate lives but they "ended every day the way it began: together." They do need each other and every now and again something happens - something small, ordinary and every day, but enough to remind them that they are good together or that they are dependent on each other for something that only they can provide each other. There is hope.
For Evan though, things at work begin to become complicated. Just at the point where I was beginning to wonder about where the book was heading, the storyline concerning his job becomes more pressing and more dramatic. I welcomed this increased tension and shift away from the couple's relationship. The novel is such a realistic portrayal a young couple finding themselves in the 'real' world together that sometimes the unflinching prose is a little too unsettling. The dilemmas and ethical choices Evan has to make at work cleverly add a new layer and change the dynamics again. It also forces the reader to see him differently. I found myself feeling intensely worried for him.
At about this point we also begin to hear more of Evan's point of view. Suddenly another angle on Julia is revealed and I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was intrigued by Evan's interpretation of events and his recounting of things Julia had told us about. Whether this reflected their unsuitability, the distance growing between them or the deep bond that was still tugging and always pulling them back together, it is effectively told. I really admired Pitoniak's handling of this.
I found The Futures compelling. It is gentle - although the content and scenes do not lack drama, depression and difficulty - there is something poetic, mesmerising and hypnotic about their story and Pitoniak's writing. I was totally absorbed in the character's emotional journeys. I was completely engaged in their dilemmas, choices, anxieties and disappointments. Evan and Julia are both flawed, they are both human, they make mistakes, they forget about prioritising each other, they are caught up in the daydreams and trapped in the reality of growing up. This is no soap opera, this is a very real and honest exploration of that transition into a new life, a new world and how you shape yourself and each other to fit that future.
The writing is gorgeous. There are so many phrases that capture so eloquently, and with such perception, the thin line between love versus familiarity, comfort versus discomfort or as Evan acknowledges, how quickly "confidence can become arrogance....humour only a few rungs away from cruelty". The fine tread between freedom and oppression. Pitoniak has huge empathy for her characters and ensures her readers too feel this empathy alongside her.
There is tenderness in the novel as well as poignancy. I found Julia's reflection on her father's reaction towards her very moving:
.....his lawyerly gravity made you so painfully aware of your shortcomings: your irrational emotions, your unthinking reactions, you're taking things personally when nothing was personal. ......part of me hoped from some rare tenderness from my father, and I felt a doubling of heaviness. A deflating of that hope and an awareness that I should have known better than to harbour it....
I highly recommend this book. It was so much more than I expected and I felt it spoke to me on many levels. If you enjoy coming of age, character driven books that have some twists and moments of high tension then you will enjoy this a lot. Pitoniak is clearly able to craft characters and plot as well as being a skilled writer. An impressive debut.
'Pitoniak's assured debut explores the cost of realizing - and misinterpreting - one's dreams . . . Navigating terrain - love and youth, college and city life - that's often oversimplified, Pitoniak eschews cliche for nuanced characterization and sharply observed detail. Evan and Julia ring true as 20-somethings, but Pitoniak's novel also speaks to anyone who has searched among possible futures for the way back to what Julia calls 'the person I had been all along'
The Futures publishes on 1st June by Michael Joseph.
For more recommendations from me you can find me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3