The Innocents

Francesca Segal, Author
Francesca Segal. Hyperion/Voice, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4013-4181-7
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Segal’s debut novel is an example of how one can be influenced by great writers who’ve come before yet not be trapped by them. Nice, reliable Adam is engaged to Rachel, the perfect Jewish girl, in a closely knit North West London Jewish community. But Rachel’s free-spirited cousin Ellie, back from a scandalous time in the U.S., makes him feel not so nice and not so reliable. He falls for Ellie, but the machinations of both his fiancée and his community create obstacles to his desires. Inspired by The Age of Innocence, Segal’s book is warmer, funnier, and paints a more dynamic and human portrait of a functional community that is a wonderful juxtaposition to Wharton’s cold social strata in Gilded Age New York. Adam is just as much of a coward as Newland Archer, more in love with the idea of rebellion than actually capable of committing the act. Rachel echoes May Welland’s passive aggressiveness, yet goes after what she wants with more courage when faced with tough choices. Ellie is far more self-aware and less of a victim than Ellen Olenska, which makes her more interesting and sympathetic. The real hero of the book is Lawrence, Adam’s father-in-law, a man who deeply loves his family, appreciates the community, utilizes his “quiet faith,” and is profoundly grateful for his life. The book is full of delightful moments, such as Lawrence’s comment, “Any Jewish holiday can be described the same way. They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” Segal took the theme of a well-known novel and made it her own. Lively and entertaining. Agent: Melanie Jackson, the Melanie Jackson Agency. (June 5)
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