Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Pineapple Street might be the start of making Jenny Jackson our modern Jane Austen

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson makes the shortlist of my favorite novels read in 2023 alongside two Adrian McKinty books (The Island and The Chain) and Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak. Jackson's debut novel could certainly be accused (and was, by some critics) of being shallow and predictable. But I found the story of two daughters and their sister-in-law in Brooklyn Heights navigating their ultra-wealthy families to be a funny, gripping, and eye-opening coming-of-age tale about finding one's own path despite the not-always-obvious ways that wealth can stunt people's growth.

The New York Times wrote, "The novel often feels catty and shallow, filled with gossip and one-dimensional characters." Yes, there is cattiness and gossip, but maybe that's why I liked it so much! That's the stuff that I found to really work at building our understanding of these characters. And author Chris Bohjalian says it well in the Times: “It’s the novel Jane Austen would have written, if Jane Austen lived in Brooklyn Heights in the 21st century.”

As to the characters:

  • There's Darley, the eldest daughter who gave up her career and inheritance for motherhood and isn't always sure she's made the right decision. 
  • Then there's Georgiana, the rebellious daughter, whom we meet when the book opens with her selfishly and obliviously bumping an old high-school classmate's drink with her racquet while she beelines out of a coffee shop. She's my favorite, probably because she has some of the same qualities as me, like being the youngest sibling and being passionate about tennis. She starts to date a married co-worker, which turns into a major situation, to say the least. 
  • And finally there's Sasha, a middle-class New Englander who married Darley and Georgiana's brother. Those two do not exactly welcome Sasha into their snobby world of riches, and that storyline opens some excellent explorations of class and elitism by Jackson.
The author, too, is kind of a fascinating character, having publishing her first novel while working as a vice-president and executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf. She learned the ropes in the fiction and publishing-house trenches, and I think she nailed it.

5 out of 5 stars

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