The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
1/5/21; 320 pages
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington is a very highly recommended literary coming-of-age story that also mixes in class differences with a political drama.
Charlie Boykin lived with his single mother and aunt on the working-class side of Nashville and relies on his friend to protect him until his mother arranges for him to be admitted as a scholarship student to the elite Yeatman school in the wealthy neighboring town of Belle Meade in the 1980's. Once there, Charlie is paired up with upperclassman, Archer Creigh, as his big brother. Arch embraces this role and introduces him to the world of privilege and wealth surrounding Yeatman and the students who attend the school. Charlie admires Arch's ease and causal acceptance of everything wealth entitles him too and falls in love with Arch's girlfriend, Vanessa. Charlie quickly adapts to life among the wealthy, although he never quit feels he is an equal. Yeatman does provide a safe place for his love of art to flourish. Charlie considers them friends, but does face several harsh truths and does end up distancing himself from everyone for a period of time.
In the opening of the novel, we know that Charlie is currently a
Casualty Notification Officer for the Army. He learns that Arch committed suicide while visiting a family. This foreshadowing of what is
to come looms over the whole story, which then goes back in time to follow the events leading up to the present.
The writing is absolutely superb in The Fortunate Ones. While it does resemble The Great Gatsby in some of the themes presented, it is definitely its own novel. Charlie is the narrator who feels a sense of loyalty, but also knows that his trust is misplaced. The stark contrast between Charlie's family with that of the wealthy, prestigious society families is clearly depicted and even as he feels acceptance, he also knows that he is not a part of them. He notices the acceptance of their privileged place in society, notes the deceit present, and sees details that they don't seem to recognize. Tarkington handles all his characters and the details surrounding their actions with a great deal of empathy and understanding even when they are exhibiting their worst behavior.
The character development is positively perfect. Tarkington allows
the characters to tell the story in the narrative and the plot unfolds
naturally from this. The result is characters who have a depth and
complexity that resemble real life. Charlie's growing unease and
questions about Arch develop naturally through the action in the plot.
This is a coming-of-age story but it also covers a loss of innocence
and begs the question how far does loyalty demand you go and does it
require compromising your principles?
This is an excellent novel. I loved Tarkington's debut novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and with The Fortunate Ones I am now decidedly a fan of his writing.Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill .