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The Adults: A Novel by Alison Espach

The Adults: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Alison Espach

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2001558,750 (3.42)5
Title:The Adults: A Novel
Authors:Alison Espach
Info:Scribner (2011), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Adults by Alison Espach



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I’ve had The Adults on my reading list for a while so of course I picked it up when I spotted it at the thrift store. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I started reading, but I loved it. The book as a whole was so captivating. Emily’s character was great and she kept my attention the entire time.
Alison Espach’s writing style sort of reminded me of Janet Fitch’s White Oleander which I also loved. All around a great book and a new favorite. ( )
  Serenity_Tigerlily | May 2, 2015 |
This book follows the life of Emily Vidal, who we first meet as a teenager in Fairfield, Connecticut. The only daughter in a wealthy family, she's lived a fairly sheltered life and is pretty naïve. Her concerns are by and large typically teenaged - trying to fit in with the girls at her high school, having a crush on her similarly aged neighbor Mark, etc. This all changes when in quick succession she learns that her parents are divorcing, her father is having an affair with Mark's mother, and then Mark's father dramatically commits suicide right before Emily's eyes. With her unresolved daddy issues, Emily begins a sexual affair with her high school English teacher, a dysfunctional relationship that continues to haunt her as she ages, just as her tenuous relationship with her father is constantly renegotiated.

This book was a random find, spied upon the shelves of my local library, with no prior knowledge of it or personal recommendation. However, the description of a "ruefully funny and wickedly perceptive" ... "chronicle of a modern young woman's struggle to grow up" sounded intriguing so I decided to give it a try. I was sorely disappointed with it and only finished reading it due to my perverse need to see books through to their end, despite how poorly written or dissatisfying they may be. That being said though, I did almost give up on this book on several occasions, given how bad I found it.

When I dislike a book as much as I did this one, it's hard to know where to begin in reviewing it. A huge part of my sour taste with this book was due to the characters; there simply isn't anything redeemable about any of them. A book doesn't always need to have likable or relatable characters to make it interesting (see for instance, The Dinner, which I overall enjoyed despite its rather nasty characters), but it helps if the characters have some sort of je ne sais quoi that keeps you compelled to read about them. That was entirely lacking here. Nearly every character here - and certainly all the main ones - was shallow and selfish, entirely self-absorbed way beyond the average person. The high school students are among the worse people I have heard described -- vulgar, violent, and completely unaware how many more opportunities they've been given compared to other people throughout the country (let alone around the world). Their parents are, of course, little better with their superficial concerns about parties and appearances and apparent disregard for their children's troubling hijinks. It would be one thing if Espach was skewering people with these characterizations, but if there was satire at work here, I completely missed it.

Meanwhile, I had zero sympathy for Emily by at least half way through the book (and very little for her before that). 'Struggling to grow up' seems apt, because I don't think she's managed to achieve that, even by the end of the novel when she's well into her 20s. Yes, all of us are still working to figure out things all throughout life, but she is particularly uncaring and selfish in a childish way still, and it doesn't seem to me that she's learned one iota from her experiences. Emily's relationship with her father is a driving force in her life, whether or not she recognizes, and it's yet another tell about her character that her father moving out of the house is a far more traumatic event in her life than witnessing her close neighbor kill himself. The suicide seems to roll right off her shoulders almost immediately while she - almost subconsciously - mulls about her father's affair and other issues for the rest of her life, allowing her to make suspect choices again and again. She idolizes her father, even to the point of remaining blind to the possible role her father may have played in the neighbor's desire to commit suicide.

Her dysfunctional daddy issues lead her into a dysfunctional sexual relationship with her high school teacher, a man in his mid-20s, when she is only 15. This relationship - as disturbing as it is - is one she comes back to several times even as an adult. This troubling relationship is described in explicit detail over and over again for a large part of the book. As I've mentioned before, I'm not prudish and I don't have a problem with authors writing about sex when it serves a purpose to the story or characterizations, but most of the sex scenes here are simply gratuitous smut. It gets to the point where it's almost insulting to the reader: Yes, these two characters have a relationship built almost entirely by sex. We get it. We don't need a good third of the book to be an explicit description of the sex acts of a 15-year-old with a grown man. It's unnecessary and frankly bordering on child pornography.

A weird interlude in the book takes place after Emily's college years (which are completely brushed over by the way) when she goes to live with her father in Prague. At this point, it almost seems like things could be getting better for the characters. Emily is still floundering, but she's at least somewhat aware of her limitations and working on making decisions. Her father has a new girlfriend who isn't as entirely awful as the other characters, and some things are revealed about him that show maybe he isn't as bad as previously thought before. But, of course, these characters can't help but be true to themselves and immediately ditch anything good in their lives in favor of their previous dysfunctions. Still, that brief time period was probably the most interesting part of the book, where the author was able to write in a slightly more appealing way.

Speaking of writing, it's hard to sum up this author's style. She certainly has some talent, although it's not yet strong enough to shoulder the difficult task of making a story about unlikable people a good read. While the novel is largely told chronologically, Espach likes to occasional make jumps forward and backward in time. These passages are sometimes successful but can often be jarring instead. She tries to tie together themes but the protagonist's overall lack of self-awareness makes her few moments of clarity meaningless. Any attempts at beautiful language are lost in between long, explicit passages about the sexual encounters that Emily has. And, again, if Espach is trying to be "ruefully funny and wickedly perceptive," she's mostly failed. There's a rare line or observation that sizzles, but these are so few and far between that this book isn't worth reading for those. In fact this book in many ways reminded me of a fictionalized version of Her Last Death, but more poorly written.

The one saving grace for the audiobook version is that Tavia Gilbert is an expert reader, doing a marvelous job at various voices and accents. Still, that wasn't enough to keep me focused on this audiobook for long, often opting to switch over and try my luck at the radio (frequently playing the same Taylor Swift song on four different stations) rather than listen to this book for long swaths at a time. I honestly found the world created by Espach here and the characters she peopled it with to be entirely depressing, and I'm glad to be done with this book. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Mar 29, 2015 |
I read where the author of this book teaches creative writing, what a surprise. In New York, what a bigger surprise, Not. From the city of elitist garbage comes "The Adults" by Alison Espach.
This book was a huge disappointment. It was a "recommended If you liked" Jonathan Tropper" and when I saw it was on sale for $7.00 I bought it. I should have known better when I saw the quote/ hype/ recommendation on the back from The New York Times- " A fierce, tender adolescent narrative". As for the recommended if you liked Jonathan Tropper, comparing these two writers is like comparing the musical talents of Britney Spears to Mozart. The author seems to be incapable of writing clearly. Nearly every sentence is creative for creative sake, oftentimes either completely muddling the point of the sentence or worse contradicting itself.
" she was a skinny but doughy woman, like someone had ripped the muscles out of her body". Was she skinny or doughy? I don't know, and after the first 110 pages, I stopped caring.
James Lee Burke can write a descriptive showy sentence to describe a person or place, this author can't. This book is a perfect example of the type of books reviewers especially those at the New York Times Book Review, latch onto and love. The author narrates Emily (who at the beginning of the book is the 14 year old girl who is the "star" of this boring story) like a 50 year old blue blood would think and speak. Not one character in this train wreck of a book is likable, and most of the story is either disturbing or terribly far fetched. Another really annoying thing about this book is that most of the characters have dumb nicknames. With all the books that are published each year, it is sad that crap like this gets the attention and the hype. ( )
  zmagic69 | Jun 15, 2014 |
"The Adults" started off well. I loved the suburban voice if this coming of age novel, but even as Emily grew, her voice never changed much which bothered me. She seemed intent on staying a child. But then again, maybe that was the point.

Not long after the book starts, she witnesses a neighbor commit suicide, an act that will change her life forever. As she grows up with some very cruel children who think there already adults, a mother who drinks to much, and a philandering father, life if a drag until Mr. Basketball comes into the picture. Then as time goes on, she begins to wonder if anyone really is an adult or if were all just kidding ourselves.

The writing was good in this one, not great, but good. Worth a read but not a re-read. ( )
  Alexander19 | Feb 11, 2014 |
Interesting as a coming of age novel that doesn’t resort to an overly clichéd ending. Modern prose, which took a bit of time for me to get used to, with little episodes of non-chronological additions within the largely linear story. I loved how it looked at what being "an adult" means at different stages in life. At points I was a little frustrated with the problems-of-privilege themes, and the teenage-teacher affair won't be for everyone, but overall it is a solid first novel. ( )
  meganelizabeth | Nov 19, 2013 |
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Teenager Emily Vidal tries to navigate through the assortment of eccentric adults at her father's fiftieth birthday party, a celebration organized by her mother, despite her parents' impending divorce.

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