A Jewish student at a (thinly disguised) Ivy League college in the ’90s

If you’ve read My Last Innocent Year, you quickly figured out that it’s meant to be Dartmouth, right? Yes, it’s subtly called Wilder College, but it’s described as an elite college in New Hampshire that used to be all male but is now coed.

This is the first of two campus novels that I’ve read in the last few weeks; I’ll post my review of the second in three or four days.

So, as the title of this blog post indicates, this book by Daisy Alpert Florin takes place mostly at Dartmouth—and mostly in the ’90s, though there are also some flashbacks as well as a rather hurried account of the two decades since the protagonist graduated. Isabel comes from a Jewish working-class family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan—a far cry in every way from rural New Hampshire on the Vermont border. I’m guessing that Isabel at least represents the author, and probably even that the story is somewhat autobiographical, but I have no actual evidence for these conclusions.

Reviewers loved this debut novel. At least female ones did; maybe that suggests that I’m not a member of the target audience. While I wouldn’t exactly label it “chick lit,” I feel oddly held at a distance from it. Admittedly it kept my attention throughout, so I never felt that I wanted to give up partway through, but I was never really involved. Okay, it’s about a Jewish student in an Ivy League college, and that should have been a point of connection. But the action takes place 30 years after I was an undergraduate, which I suppose lessens that connection. Monica Lewinsky keeps coming up…but so what? Again, my POV is clearly different from the author’s. The protagonist is an English major who becomes a successful fiction writer—hard for me to find much connection there. Finally, a date rape by an Israeli classmate and Isabel’s affair with a professor provide a major theme. Neither speaks to me. That sort of thing never happened in the ’60s.

I lied there.

Of course both happened in the ’60s…but never in the bubble surrounding me and my friends. Probably I was just oblivious.

My Last Innocent Year may well be your cup of tea, even though it wasn’t mine.

Categories: Books