The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

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The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: Evan and Julia are college sweethearts whose relationship faces serious obstacles when they move to New York City together at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. This is a realistic look at the forces that whittle away at love and the way decisions shape the future.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 316 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Michael Joseph
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780718184568

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When we first meet Evan Peck, he has just started at Yale College, where he plays ice hockey. Like lots of the other players, he is actually Canadian, from small-town British Columbia. One night after a party Evan meets Julia Edwards at their dorm and they go out for pizza. She technically has a boyfriend from her Boston boarding school days, but they soon break up and before long Julia and Evan have become inseparable, as they will remain for the rest of their college years.

Pitoniak covers a lot of ground very quickly, such that by page 40 Evan and Julia have graduated and are off to New York City, where he has an offer of a job with respected hedge fund Spire Management. However, there are frequent flashbacks to their college years in the rest of the novel, so readers get to experience Julia's semester abroad in Paris, her involvement with the campus magazine, her first two-week visit with his family, and so on. I appreciated these backtracking moments as they give a better sense of the characters' past; without them, the story would be lacking in necessary context.

Evan's Spire colleagues are a bit like his hockey team: a crude brotherhood. He and the other analysts stay at their desks until 10 o'clock every night, which means Evan hardly ever gets to see Julia in the evenings and misses special occasions like Thanksgiving with her family. His boss is a fellow country boy from South Dakota and promises to look out for him. Unfortunately, this means bringing him in on a dodgy deal to corner the Canadian lumber market by getting Chinese importers to drop taxes and tariffs in exchange for visas.

Meanwhile, it takes Julia several weeks to find a job: an arts foundation assistant position that she landed mostly thanks to her parents' connections. Although she's pretty much just an office dogsbody, she's grateful to be employed. However, she's discontented with her newly distant relationship with Evan, and when she by chance meets up with an old friend from Yale, Adam McCard, who was the editor-in-chief of the campus magazine and is now a business journalist in the City, they hit it off and start spending a lot of time together.

Early on there had been hints that Julia was going to cheat on Evan, so it isn't really a surprise when her friendship with Adam turns into something more. The way the narrative alternates between first-person passages from Julia and Evan gives you a deep understanding of both characters; sometimes their accounts even overlap to give two different perspectives on the same events. Both make undeniably poor decisions – Evan goes ahead with the lumber deal even after he realises it's illegal, and Julia keeps seeing Adam even though she feels guilty for deceiving Evan – but you can't help but sympathize with them all the same.

Both are trying to navigate the adult world for the first time, and when life starts to fall apart the city itself dwarfs their tragedies, reminding them that they're not the first to mess up and they won't be the last to let work and other people intrude on love. As Evan puts it, 'the city had been witness to different versions of myself. It gave me a new claim over this place. I had tried, failed, collapsed, but I was still here. The city was still here. The scale of the place had become newly comforting. It had a way of shrinking my pain to a bearable smallness.'

This debut novel is about what happens as the future, which starts off feeling enormous and liable to branch off in any direction, narrows in on you as you get stuck in particular patterns of behaviour. It's about growing up, and the mistakes we make along the way. And it's about the way that, even after major failures, we can build a sense of the future once again. Ultimately, although it feels melancholy for much of its length, this is a hopeful book. Pitoniak (a Random House editor who herself is from British Columbia and attended Yale) writes realistic situations and convincing characters, and I'll be interested to see what she comes out with next.

Further reading suggestion: Invincible Summer by Alice Adams and Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma are two more stories of university friendships, high finance and city love.

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