The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington is a novel about Charlie Boykin, a boy who grows up working-class with his single mother in Nashville and ends up attending a fancy private boys school as a scholarship student. While there, he develops formative friendships and relationships that fundamentally transform him and alter the course of his life. The Fortunate Ones is an engrossing, readable coming-of-age story that covers class, racism, identity, politics, and loyalty. I’ve heard it compared to The Great Gatsby, which I can see – it has a classic, old-fashioned feel to it while also being relatable and fresh.
Why I picked it up: I took a spin through the New Releases shelf at the library and grabbed The Fortunate Ones on impulse, as I had read good things about it when it came out last year. Scribd had it on audio, and that was that.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, because one of the things I really liked about The Fortunate Ones was the slow unpeeling of the story. As Charlie grows up, his relationship with Arch Creigh, a boy who took him under his wing at school, evolves, along with Arch’s ambitions and aspirations. This relationship ends up defining Charlie’s life, as he lives in Arch’s glow, even when he doesn’t agree with Arch’s politics or his tactics.
I loved Tarkington’s writing, his observations about family and class dynamics, and his understated voice. I was always happy to come back to this book and felt deeply invested in Charlie and his life. The last quarter was a little disappointing, as it sped through some pivotal events and was a bit unclear, a departure from the earlier part of the book. I wish Tarkington had slowed down as he resolved the story, rather than speeding it up. But overall, I thought The Fortunate Ones was a very good read and I’m so glad I came across it when I did. It will definitely be one of my standout reads of the year.
I listened to The Fortunate Ones on audio, and it was excellent. MacLeod Andrews was perfect – he did a great Southern accent and nicely differentiated the various characters. This audiobook was an airpods-in-the-house listen and I am sad that it is finished.
The Fortunate Ones was the 16th book of 2022.