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The Awkward Age: A Novel by Francesca Segal
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The Awkward Age: A Novel (2017)

by Francesca Segal

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In this beautifully written, haunting book about the clash of family and desire, and about love and its obstacles, its triumphs and devastations, Francesca Segal presents a thoroughly modern family: Julia Alden has fallen in love and is living with the love of her life, James Fuller. James and Julia both have teenage children, and they merge their family homes, bringing James, Julia, Julia's daughter Gwen, and James's son Nathan, under the same roof, with all the challenges and obstacles to peace that such a living arrangement suggests. The teens at first clash and collide, resentful of their respective parents; they come, however, to develop a different relationship, one which threatens to tear this "family" apart.

This is brilliantly written and superbly described. The point of view alternates between all the subjects, so we get almost a therapist's individualized view of the perspectives of those involved. Segal's writing is lovely, and she has a knack for describing the heartbreaking with humor, and the comedic with tragic undertones. The novel is sympathetic towards all the characters; no one person here is to blame for the chaos inflicted on each and every person.

If anything, the upheaval that tosses everyone about is mostly an indictment of the modern "family." Julia's and Gwen's loss of Gwen's dad years before the novel opens is the catalyst for an unhealthy relationship that has developed between mother and daughter and which is partly to blame for Julia's coddling of Gwen; James's divorce from his children's mother and their living on different continents accounts for the upheaval in their lives; James and Julia's decision to live together and merge households presupposes an emotional hardiness and adaptability in the children, but which verges on the callous. The throwing together of all the parties here can be seen as a modern maneuver which has disastrous effects. It's hard not to shift the weight of this calamity on the two adults who decide that their own happiness trumps that of their children. If anything is to blame, it seems to be the mistaken notion that so many of us seem to have today, that the shifting of familial tectonic plates that occurs to children when their parents adjust their own love lives is something kids can and should, be able to adjust to with ease.

Complicating the relationships here is Julia's connection to her former in-laws, the parents of her dead husband, with whom Julia shares not only Gwen as a blood relative, but also a close tie. Her in-laws have their own complicated relationship: they are no longer married to each other, yet are themselves deeply connected, sharing daily conversations, outings to cultural events, and even a bank account.

The issues raised by this dilemma are deep, universal and touching: are adults expected to curb their own desires and put their own lives on hold to accommodate their children? How do you recompense your child for a tragedy that took one parent away? How do you convince a grown child of the right path if she refuses to walk it?

Very moving book from a very gifted writer.

Thank you to the author and publisher for a review copy. ( )
  ChayaLovesToRead | Jun 5, 2017 |
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Epigraph
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart's needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom's end. Yet nothing's more perfect
than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.

A woman's life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
---ANNE STEVENSON, "POEM FOR A DAUGHTER"
Dedication
For GMA
First words
The teenagers would fuck it up.
Quotations
Teenage relationships were always roller coasters, but how had the whole family ended up trapped with them on the ride?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399576452, Hardcover)

A wry, tender novel about an ordinary family facing extraordinary choices.

Julia Alden has fallen deeply, unexpectedly in love. American obstetrician James is everything she didn't know she wanted--if only her teenage daughter, Gwen, didn't hate him so much. Uniting two households is never easy, but when Gwen turns for comfort to James's seventeen-year-old son, Nathan, the consequences will test her mother's loyalty and threaten all their fragile new happiness.

This is a moving and powerful novel about the modern family: about starting over; about love, guilt, and generosity; about building something beautiful amid the mess and complexity of what came before. It is a story about standing by the ones we love, even while they make mistakes. We would give anything to make our children happy. But how much should they ask?

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 19 Feb 2017 04:35:19 -0500)

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