Monday, May 21, 2018 -
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Summer reading: The Awkward Age

How much should parents sacrifice for their kids — and vice versa — is the primary theme of Francesca Segal’s newest book, The Awkward Age (Penguin/Random House), which just hit bookstores and libraries in the US.

You might remember Segal from her critically acclaimed debut The Innocents, a modernized riff on Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. London Jewish life featured heavily in The Innocents. In The Awkward Age, it’s more of a tangential characterization than a plot point, and is the one element of the book that doesn’t really ring true.

The plot focuses on a newly blended family: Widow Julia and her daughter Gwen; the American James and his son Nathan. Initially there’s no love lost between Gwen and Nathan, bringing their parents consternation. When the two kids do get close — too close — the consternation really sets in.

Over the past several decades, children have taken on a new place in adult life. Whereas once upon a time it was children should be seen not heard, for many, children are now the center point — sometimes to the point where parents no longer have an independent life but live through their children. The Awkward Age does not resolve the question of whether this is a good thing, but does explore the costs associated with children playing the primacy role.

Unlike The Innocents, which was busy on the Jewish book circuit, The Awkward Age will probably not receive the same attention, as the Jewish aspect is not only tangential but ultimately unnecessary. Outside of the drama within the story, the characters interact little with the outside world — indeed, there are really only two external characters not part of the central conflict — so it’s unclear why the Jewish aspect was even introduced. But this is a great book for anyone interested not only in the dynamics — and potential pitfalls — of blended families, but for those interested in parent-child relationships.

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