Southern Noir: The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

Fortunate OnesI’m sure you can tell that I’ve been reading more escapist novels than usual in this strange winter of our isolation. Southern noir certainly fills the bill.

Echoes of The Great Gatsby haunt The Fortunate Ones, a story of moral decay among the moneyed classes in Nashville, TN. Charlie Boykin, brought up on the wrong side of the tracks by a beautiful but feckless mother, unexpectedly receives a scholarship to a prestigious private school. Charismatic student Archer Creigh is assigned to him as a mentor and much to Charlie’s mystification and delight, he and Arch become close friends. Suddenly his life expectations are changed and with Arch at his side he’s admitted to Nashville’s upper crust. Arch introduces Charlie to the glamorous Baltom family and when Charlie’s mother is hired as Mrs. Baltom’s assistant and they move into the garage apartment, everything seems just perfect. Charlie has a crush on Vanessa Baltom although he knows that she’s in love with Arch. Everyone’s in love with Arch Creigh–he’s the golden boy. 

The story is told by Charlie as a flashback; he’s our Nick Carraway guide to this privileged but morally bankrupt world. As Charlie matures into early adulthood his idealization of Arch and the Baltom family undergoes several revisions, but it’s not until Arch runs for Mayor and then Senator, that Charlie sees how his own life has been manipulated. 

There’s lots of plot here and well delineated characters that make it all, told in a haunting tone of wistfulness, nostalgia, and regret. I found myself thinking of Ethan Canin’s wonderful novel America, America, another story of a young man drawn into the orbit of a wealthy political family for better or for worse.  


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