Prior to reading Francesca Segal’s, my knowledge of Jewish culture was limited to Adam Sandler songs and Seinfeld reruns and my connection to Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was linked to a college class. Segal, however, manages to make her modern version of this classic completely welcoming, just like the Jewish families she writes of, and provides an endearing education to the Jewish culture of North West London.
Adam Newman is a young successful lawyer, engaged to Rachel Gibson who he has been dating since high school. The two have grown together and Adam, whose own father passed away when Adam was eight, has been lovingly accepted in Rachel’s family, especially her father who treats him as a son. As the wedding date approaches, however, Adam begins to question the union, especially when Rachel’s supermodel cousin, Ellie, re-enters the picture.
Ellie is everything that Rachel is not – worldly, carefree and fiercely independent and forces Adam to question his isolated existence in North West London with its shabbat rituals and Jewish traditions. He recognizes that Rachel is an ideal Jewish wife and is what he grew to expect as a member of such a close-knit community, but fears that life with her might further enmesh him into the only only world which he knows.
The story is enticing and is filled with voice. Adam is undeniably human and his confusion is easily understood, yet I found myself relating to Rachel as well. Segal has written a captivating story with lively characters and Jewish traditions, crafting a wonderful contemporary version of Wharton’s classic. The Innocents, which arrives in bookstores in June, is an engaging read even for those who are not familiar with the original The Age of Innocence or Jewish culture. Segal warmly introduces readers to both.