Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Adults

The Adults, Alison Espach's debut novel, has left me feeling a bit discombobulated.  It is wryly, tragically humorous and the dialog between characters is so smart, it reads like an Aaron Sorkin or Amy Sherman-Palladino script.  (Nobody I know talks like this in real life, but it's fun to imagine they do.)  Still, the humor is laid like a thin veneer on top of a very troubling story.  It is the story of Emily Marie Vidal, an appropriately disaffected 15-year-old from an appropriately dysfunctional family in a wealthy neighborhood in suburban Connecticut.  It is the story of her father's infidelity with the neighbor, her parents' subsequent divorce, and the apparently-related suicide of the neighbor's husband.  It is the story of the illicit love affair between Emily and her 24-year-old English teacher that grows amidst the tragedy.  And, ultimately, it is the story of growing up, even if what that means is different than what it seemed in childhood to be. 

None of the characters escape Espach's pen in the assessment of the 21st century disaffected, ironic, suburban culture.  Each of the characters, including Emily, is portrayed with flaws.  Each seems to be striving toward something they're not: older or younger; richer or more beautiful; more intelligent or less.  The most disappointing aspect of the book is the disconnect between Emily's teen years and her young adulthood.  College is treated with a few cursory sentences in retrospect from the vantage point of her early twenties. Jumping from (chronological) immaturity to (chronological) adulthood glosses over a key time when the transition that is, or ought to be, made.  Each review of this book that I've seen is a little better than the last, but I'm not sure I came away liking the book, and I definitely didn't have much affinity for the characters.  Still, the story is interesting in its unsettling ways and offers a lot to think and talk about.

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