The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Published by Algonquin Books
Publication date: January 5, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Literary
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Things are starting to turn around in Charlie Boykin’s life. The child of a single mother who works as a cocktail waitress, he’s been one of the only white boys at his school and in their Nashville neighborhood. Now, he’s gotten a needs-based scholarship to Yeatman, a prestigious, private high-school. Even better, he’s assigned an upper classman mentor who turns out to be the unicorn of prep school boys—incredibly popular, but kind. The Fortunate Ones is Charlie’s outside-looking-in experience of a world he never dreamed he would inhabit and how that world can change you.
While Yeatman increases Charlie’s opportunities, it is a foreign country. Academically, he is far behind his peers and athletically he has no talent at all. Without Arch as his guide he would be as much of a target as he was at his previous school, but for different reasons. With Archer, he’s accepted, not just at school but, also by the people Archer knows personally. He’s introduced to the Haltom family; whose son is a classmate and whose daughter becomes Charlie’s first crush. He’s eased into a new sphere of friendships and interactions with the adult world. This life change even impacts his mother, when Mrs. Haltom hires her as a salaried assistant. She also offers their empty guesthouse as a more convenient place to live.
There must be a catch, right? Not really. There is nothing nefarious in The Fortunate Ones. No one is smuggling drugs, laundering money, or abusing children. Instead, although writing from Charlie’s perspective, author Ed Tarkington lets slide the curtain between child and adult. We are in Charlie’s world, where much can be excused as not understanding how the wealthy or adults behave. Their flaws, bigotry, and fallibility are right there on the page, but are not so much questioned as they are painted over. Charlie goes along until it’s too late and not just his world, but his belief system crashes.
Charlie runs until circumstances force his return. Upon doing so, he sees that most of what he thought to be golden is tin. He is once again on the outside, but looking in with the clear eyes of an adult. Tarkington handles this shift in perspective well, giving The Fortunate Ones a weight that takes it beyond a simple novel of wealthy people behaving badly.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.*