Jan. 31st, 2011

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It strikes me as being decidedly odd, when a retelling is better than the original: nevertheless, upon careful consideration, I must admit that Joanna Smith Rakoff's A Fortunate Age (2010, set in the late 90s and early oughts) is considerably better than Mary McCarthy's The Group (1963, set in the 1930s). 

Rakoff does an excellent job of translating the concerns of a crowd of women.  Well, primarily: a few characters perform gender swaps, but to good effect ... nevertheless, identity, career, marriage, and childbirth remain the mainstays, in and frighteningly consistent configurations.  The story is improved, first, by the consolidation of several characters into one - it has the uneasy effect of making that one a little too perfect, but it's at least acknowledged in the text, adding a certain complexity, whereas in the original the fractioned characters are simply loathsome archetypes (The Neuter: The Career Gal; The Mother).   And, second, simply, it's eerie to read the two in quick succession, and see how many concerns remain constant: one particularly pretentious character is such the contemporary hipster that it made me giggle a little.  Actually, in point of fact, I think I actually would have sort of liked her in the 30s as a genuinely confused free-thinker, whereas her contemporary counterpart just made me roll my eyes - wonder what the true version there would be?

Nevertheless: though I love early women's novels as cultural artifacts, all of McCarthy's characters make me want to bite them.  Next up: Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything.  Wonder if anybody's thought to rewrite that one yet ... or if somebody (me?) ought to give it a shot. 

February 2013

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