The Futures by Anna Pitonak

Reviewed by Devin Sullivan

All college graduates must go through that awkward period of growing pains
as they transition from a college campus to the ‘real world.’ Removed of the label
of student, individuals find themselves newly needing an identity, or purpose;
no longer able to get by without knowing themselves. With the backdrop of the
’08 economic crisis, The Futures is a typical story of those transitional years that does not attempt to differentiate itself, but rather gives into the self-absorption and time-
obsessed mindset of those first venturing out of college. Julia and Evan, a long-term couple from Yale, enter that period of transition and
discomfort when they move from New Haven to New York City. Together since
freshman year, they barely hesitate to move in together – it’s the predictable next
step for a relationship that takes itself too seriously: “We had our separate lives,
but they were lived in parallel, and we ended every day the way it began: together,”
(p.22). While Evan enters the Empire City with an enviable job in finance, Julia
follows without an offer, or even an idea of what she wants to do. Even if Evan has
a job, both characters are completely lost, which Pitoniak portrays through their
irritable and ambivalent narrative voices and indulging in ephemeral distractions.
The Futures follows their journey into the professional world as they repeatedly
fail to adjust themselves and their relationship to their new economic and physical
setting.
Evan is originally presented in the context of where he is from; the way he
sees himself appears to be completely defined by how his small British Columbia
hometown perceives him: “It made the picture snap into focus: I was a hockey
player; I was a born-and-bred local: I was a hard worker even if I wasn’t the
brightest. An image easily understood, one as solid and reliable as the mountains
in the distance,” (10). Readers quickly gain a better understanding of Evan’s
hometown than of Evan himself since his self-image comes solely from how others
treat him; he had never had to find himself because he was always shown who
he was. In contrast, Julia is first presented in the context of her unhappiness and
dissatisfaction with what life looks like on the other side of college: “I could close and the sounds of the party weren’t so different from those in college, but I wasn’t
tricking myself. The feeling in the air had changed. There was a whole world out
there, beyond wherever we gathered,” (p. 26). Even the two-page prologue captures
her dissatisfaction and regret as she presents her post-college transition from her
perspective.
Though Evan and Julia come from different backgrounds, they both share a
self-absorbed view of the world – to an exhausting and infuriating extent. While
it first seems that Pitoniak has no understanding of how to ‘show, not tell,’ it
becomes noticeable that it is not Pitoniak who is obsessed with explicitly detailing
the emotions of her characters, but her characters who are fixated on their own
mindsets. What originally appears to be a confusing degree of transparency
becomes an intentionally overwhelming level of narcissism, as Evan and Julia
obsess over what is wrong with themselves and each other in their alternating
narratives. As shown in Evan’s breakdown of his relationship with his job, “The
sureness of my work and the nearness of success. Without that, I started to come
loose,” or Julia’s analysis of her college self, “I was never good at skepticism, at
questioning what was happening to me.” Their self-obsessed perspectives extend
past how they see themselves to influence how they see the world.
While this novel is described as following a transitioning couple, it is really
parallel stories of two adjusting individuals that remain together out of comfort
and inaction. Both characters are increasingly unable to recognize one another;
Evan reveals that, “It was a strange thing to watch her from this distance…It was
like I was looking at Julia from a different angle and seeing something I hadn’t seen
before” (p. 52). Later, Julia admits that, “Evan was becoming a stranger in front of
my eyes. This man sitting on my doorway was someone I had never met before”
(p. 245). Through their self-obsession and distance from their college years, they
evolve individually while their relationship diminishes to one of roommates.
While they do begin to challenge their understandings of themselves throughout
the novel, they ultimately fail to question their relationship.
Time seems to affect Julia and Evan more than anything else in their lives. It
defines their separation from college, their detachment from each other and their
disengagement from themselves: “How you spent your time was suddenly up to
you…Infinite, terrifying options opening up like a crevasse and no one to tell you
which way to go” (p. 27). While Evan originally struggles with the amount of
free time he has at work, he is placed on a new, shiny project and transitions to
finding himself completely without any excess time. But Julia’s free time persists,
allowing her to further separate from Evan and from herself, as she gets lost in poor
decisions that only come from restlessness and freedom. Julia’s choice of company,
individuals she previously tried to separate herself from, underlines the distance
between college Julia and postgrad Julia. The supplement of time into their lives
allows two very lost individuals to become easily swept away by distractions, either
within their place of employment or their social setting. Julia is clearly aware that
she is losing herself to her free time: “There was nothing to keep me tied to the
Earth. I scudded in whatever direction the wind decided to blow. My mistake was
that I kept interpreting it as a good thing, confusing the lightness for spontaneity,” (181).
Julia and Evan enter Manhattan in 2008, yet months pass and they remain
largely unaffected by the economic downturn; only the victims of emotional
instability, not material or economic. As the crisis fails to affect them they speak
to it as something happening to other people, an element of their surroundings.
It is not just the economic setting that can be understood by its relation to Julia
and Evan, but the physical setting as well. Manhattan is simply the backdrop
for their successes and failures, it is not an active setting in which they choose
to participate. Besides Evan’s involvement in Wall Street, it could be any city in
the world; Manhattan is depicted as merely a fount of jobs, Yale alumni, and too
small apartments. Economically and physically, Julia and Evan are unaware and
unconscious, transitioning from their New Haven bubble to only a slightly larger,
more elite bubble in Manhattan.
The Futures is often a challenging read due to the Julia and Evan’s outright unpleasantness, and consequentially of their alternating perspectives. As Julia and Evan go through changes as individuals and as a couple, they are portrayed by Pitoniak to
be maladjusted and self-absorbed to the point of redundancy. While Pitoniak’s
writing effectively emphasizes the character flaws of Julia and Evan, she fails to
be aware of the line between emphasis and excess. Or if she is conscious, and
purposefully travels past the point of stress, Pitoniak shows a preference for
reducing the reading experience at the cost of conveying her attitude towards the
mindset of those in their transitional years.

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