If I Can Make it There

Y’all know how much I love books that take place in New York (thankfully, so many do). It’s been my home for almost four years, and I can’t imagine life without it. It’s not just books that take place here, though. I love those that really capture my feelings toward this place, the ones that identify its grandness but also don’t skirt around the anxiety, the annoyances, the exhaustion. Sure, everyone who lives here loves it, but that doesn’t happen the moment you step off the plane; nothing here is ever instantaneous.

Anna Pitoniak exquisitely describes all these feels in her debut novel, The Futures. Maybe it’s the play on words in the title (for my colleagues, #sfiseverywhere) that really roused me. Or maybe it was that one of the two main characters works in finance. Maybe it’s the sprinkling of chick lit. Really, though, this book gets four flames because I felt a sense of myself in the two main characters. Their hardships were mine. Their triumphs were mine. Their love-hate relationships with this beautiful place were mine. I’m not saying The Futures is my life, but Pitoniak gets pretty damn close.

The Futures

The Futures begins at the onset of the Financial Crisis in May 2008 with 22-year-olds Evan and Julia. Their love may have seemed like a fairy tale during undergrad at Yale, but life after moving to the big city — mixed with the overwhelming stress of 2008 — is anything but. Their differences never mattered before New York, but the various ways they deal with change could unravel them.

Evan is a former hockey player from the middle-of-nowhere, British Columbia, and Julia stems from white privilege near Boston. After seeing each other for three years, they move to the Upper East Side together while he embarks on a career in the tumultuous field of finance. Evan learns very early that his line of work means long hours and often difficult moral questions. Julia feels alone and without a clear sense of direction after 22 years of having answers bestowed on her. Then, an old crush pops up when she’s at her most vulnerable. Unfortunately, they struggle to overcome these problems together.

“In the end, what we had went no deeper than the quick hit of a drug.” — The Futures

With this much change comes many feelings, and that’s tough to put into words, but Pitoniak finds a unique way. Without explicitly telling her audience, she captures exactly what her characters feel, and you find yourself swept up in their emotions. For the first few chapters, I didn’t really get this. I originally thought, for example, that there were too many ways to describe Julia. I couldn’t outright decipher (and maybe this is why I can’t assign a full five flames) what exactly was bothering her about Evan, what she really wanted in her life, or how to characterize her. More reading led me to believe that that’s what Pitoniak intended to write. The Futures characters were lost, and Pitoniak makes you understand that gradually.

Although they both feel overwhelmed, Evan and Julia perceive the same situations very differently. This is illustrated through alternating narratives. “Presenting different takes on the same events is not a new strategy, but it works well here, especially as they grow increasingly estranged, and their contrasting visions fall into sharper relief,” writes NPR’s Jean Zimmerman.

For example, Evan and Julia both give accounts of how they spent a summer during undergrad backpacking through Europe. While Evan was anxious with anticipation to visit Julia after she studied abroad that spring, she was nervous in another way. Would her newfound independence cause a rift between them? Had she realized she wanted something different? Neither of them understood the other’s apprehensions. This presentation shows us how their different backgrounds, dreams, needs, and desires framed their perceptions.

“It’s so tempting. Being told: This is who you are. This is how your life will go. This is what will make you happy. You will go to the right school, find the right job, marry the right man. You’ll do those things, and even if they feel wrong, you’ll keep doing them. Even if it breaks your heart, this is the way it’s done.” — The Futures

As Zimmerman points out though, Evan and Julia aren’t the only main characters. Another is looming large and powerful: New York City. “The city is another mirror character, a puzzle the protagonists must solve as they come to grips with their own lives,” she writes.

It’s true. The Futures would have a much different plot, would have a much different meaning, had it taken place anywhere but NYC. The sales pitch written on the inside sleeve remarks that “[The Futures is] a searing portrait of what it’s like to be young and full of hope in New York City, a place that so often seems determined to break us — but ultimately might be the very thing that saves us.”

Also true. For nearly a year, I thought this place was going to knock me to my lowest, revealing I didn’t have the gusto, skills, or whatever it takes to make things work here. But then, before I knew it, this place made me exactly who I was destined to me. It challenged me, which made me stronger and more confident. It determined all the things I love and hate, my hobbies, my dreams, and how I can improve.

“I couldn’t leave, because for the first time, New York finally felt like home … That the city has been witness to different versions of myself. It gave me a new claim over this place.” — The Futures

I’ve read a lot of books about NYC partly because I connect with the stories and with the characters. There’s a relatability that everyone experiences when you’ve lived in New York, and it usually occurs because of the general love of this place, as well as the general challenges it presents. What better way to relive and bond over these experiences than through literature.

Therefore, The Futures is the quintessential New York novel for me; it’s like looking into a mirror but with someone else’s glasses. Maybe New York’s patrons will understand it best, but for those who don’t live here, The Futures gives you insight into why we complain about this place yet why we don’t want to leave. Home is where the empire state of mind is.

Now cue those oft-hated yet always understood T.Swift lyrics.

Like any great love, it keeps you guessing
Like any real love, it’s ever-changing
Like any true love, it drives you crazy
But you know you wouldn’t change anything, anything, anything.

 

— Welcome to New York by Taylor Swift

One thought on “If I Can Make it There

  1. Pingback: Author Q&A: Anna Pitoniak | Big Little Literature

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