Adam Newman and Rachel Gibson are the perfect couple. Everyone at Temple Fortune in northwest London thinks so, and who is Adam to tell them differently?
Not only does Adam love Rachel, but he loves Rachel's family, especially her dad, Lawrence, his boss at the law firm. Oh, it took him 13 years to propose, but after all, they've been together since they were 16. Then Rachel's younger cousin Ellie Schneider, a model, comes to London from New York after Columbia kicks her out for appearing in what Ellie calls an art film and Adam's friends call porn.
Francesca Segal's debut novel, “The Innocents,” takes Edith Wharton's “The Age of Innocence” and successfully plunks it down in a tight-knit, modern Jewish community. Adam is just as self-satisfied and unaware as Wharton's main character, while Rachel's total lack of ambition makes her a capable mirror for May. Ellie, however, seems like a step down from Countess Olenska.
Part of the countess' appeal was that she was the older woman. By making Rachel's rival younger, thinner, and blonder, Segal also makes the romantic triangle less interesting. Adam would rather date a model? What guy wouldn't?
However, Ellie does pull off world-weary at age 24 admirably, and it's easy to believe she knows more than Adam about the community that's held her at arm's length at the same time that it embraced him.
Where “The Innocents” succeeds is in its warm-hearted community conspiracy. It's easy for a reader to see how being cut off from Lawrence, grandmother Ziva and the rest of Temple Fortune would be a lifelong loss, whereas ostracism from the chilly mores of high society, 19th-century New York always seemed like a blessing.