The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington is his second novel. There are certainly privileged and not-so-privileged characters in the story, but I found it difficult determining who exactly are the “fortunate” ones. The story begins with the suicide of one of the very privileged characters, Archer Creigh, and this occurs in the first few pages of the novel. Charlie who, by chance, sees this on television, is overwhelmed by the news. He thinks not of the man who died, but the boy Arch had been when Charlie first met him “with a mop of golden hair and a golden smile and a sense of certitude so strong it spilled onto everyone around him.” When Arch turned that smile toward Charlie, he felt he was transformed.

Through a series of circumstances, Charlie is plucked from his local school to attend a prestigious boys’ school which is where he meets Arch. Charlie is the son of an unwed mother trying desperately to keep things together. From this beginning, he is catapulted into the lives and homes of very wealthy people, a life that he becomes very accustomed to without ever feeling that he belongs or measures up to their standards. So he is fortunate in some respects as the school and subsequently college is paid for, but there is also a price to be paid.

The epigram at the beginning is from All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren which says in part, “the human being is a very complicated contraption and they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.” At least in the novel, the good of privilege is often tainted by believing that they are entitled to anything they want. It is great for them if it comes to them easily, but if not, some are willing to succumb to less than honorable tactics, particularly if someone else can do the dirty work for them.

And yet, Charlie from a different and difficult background also succumbs to the lure of wealth and power. He wants to be part of this privileged group, but can he hold on to himself in the process? He yearns for Vanessa while knowing that she is going to marry Arch. At one point in the novel, he finally leaves for Mexico where he thinks he can recapture who he really is.

Our book group is discussing this novel in another week, so I will be interested in their response. I enjoyed reading the novel which poses some intriguing questions, but I didn’t like or identify with any of the characters. Those two sentiments don’t seem to go together, but maybe that is also the issue for Charlie, enamored with the beauty of Arch and Vanessa and wanting to be part of their lives, but leaving behind his own history.

The Fortunate Ones is available in paperback published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and retails for $16.95.