Authors love to rewrite classics, but the result is usually parlor-game fiction, fun mainly for references to the original. A happy exception is Francesca Segal's good-natured The Innocents, which pays homage to but deviates in significant ways from its inspiration, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Although the upper-class Wasps in Wharton's late-19th-century New York have become middle-class Jews in contemporary London, the plot remains: A young man's attraction to a woman of questionable reputation threatens his engagement to the fiancée his insular community expects him to marry. But while Wharton was exposing social hypocrisy and the dangers to women of independent spirit, in Segal's bittersweet novel characters embrace their 21st-century right to ambivalence about social continuity. Emotionally confused Adam vacillates between safe, predictable Rachel, his childhood sweetheart, and her iconoclastic cousin Ellie, newly returned from New York. Meanwhile Ellie envies Adam's sense of belonging, just as Adam discovers that his world may be "elastic, far more than he'd allowed himself to admit. It was he who had been rigid." The real surprise here, though, is Rachel, who is forced by financial, medical, and emotional crises to abandon her bubble of naive certainty. "With the sacrifice of her innocence...she had bought her strength. To Adam, she had never been more beautiful."
— Leigh Newman
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, March 12, 2014