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The Awkward Age

Review

The Awkward Age

Francesca Segal’s debut, THE INNOCENTS, was a fresh take on Edith Wharton’s THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. Her second novel, THE AWKWARD AGE, shares its title with a Henry James book, but at first glance the similarities would seem to end there. On further consideration, however, it has a lot in common with its Whartonian and Jamesian forebears. Much like Wharton and James before her, Segal is interested in the clashes between the self and society, in the intersection of manners and morality, and in the navigation of treacherous interpersonal waters.

In Segal’s case, all of these themes play out over the course of a few months in a recently blended family. Julia has been widowed for several years and was not really looking for a new romantic partner --- until confident American James (coincidentally a professional colleague of Julia’s father-in-law) contacts her about taking piano lessons. Julia soon discovers that what James lacks in musical talent, he makes up for in charm and kindness, and she falls headlong in love with him. She’s constantly surprised by the happiness she’s found, especially after the many years of widowhood and her late husband’s illness that preceded it.

"THE AWKWARD AGE plays out in a way that is both entirely inevitable and yet consistently surprising, and one can imagine plenty of intense conversations among readers about the choices the characters make."

The only lump in the leaven of Julia’s happiness is the strain between James and Julia’s teenage daughter, Gwen. Gwen, who still desperately misses her father, resents not only what she views as James’ attempts to take her dad’s place but also his intrusion on what had become a very close relationship with her mother following her father’s death.

James and Gwen are just sort of uncomfortable around one another, but Gwen and James’ son, Nathan, are outright hostile to one another --- until, one night, they’re not. And all of a sudden this fledgling family is thrown into a crisis that will eventually absorb not only the parents and kids, but the extended family as well.

Segal’s title, “The Awkward Age,” is an apt one. The phrase is often used to describe teenagers, and that’s more than appropriate here, as Gwen and Nathan struggle to navigate their own coming of age amid some pretty unusual circumstances. But awkwardness is not confined to the young, as Julia and James soon realize --- their unmitigated happiness in one another is soon complicated by forces increasingly outside their control. Even Julia’s beloved in-laws, long divorced and amicably so, are entering their own “awkward age” in their old age, as they are forced to reevaluate their long-held opinions of one another.

Throughout this tightly wound series of events, Segal utilizes rapidly shifting points of view to develop a blended and nuanced narrative that adeptly illustrates the interconnectedness of this family (whether they like and admit it or not) and their steadily shifting circumstances. THE AWKWARD AGE plays out in a way that is both entirely inevitable and yet consistently surprising, and one can imagine plenty of intense conversations among readers about the choices the characters make.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 19, 2017

The Awkward Age
by Francesca Segal

  • Publication Date: May 16, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0399576452
  • ISBN-13: 9780399576454