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The AdultsReview - The Adults
A Novel
by Alison Espach
Dreamscape Media, 2011
Review by Christian Perring
Jun 28th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 26)

The Adults is the story of a woman as she grows from a teenager to an adult, and her relationship with an older man.  It starts with Emily at 14, the year her father turned 50 and got divorced.  It is a wealthy Connecticut family, apparently none of whom know how to love each other.  They spend their whole conversations being condescending and annoying.  That same year Emily saw her next door neighbor  commit suicide, which makes things awkward between Emily and the neighbor's son, whom she had a crush on.  She never really seems to take in the meaning of big events, which is maybe why she is so willing to start having sex with one of her teachers.  We might think of the teenager of a victim, but it is only later on that she seriously entertains the idea that she was too young to be having a sexual relationship with a man in his twenties, and even then, it seems a passing thought.  As the years go by, Emily's relationships with her family and men change in some ways, but she settles into recurrent patterns, and it seems like she is not capable of really getting close to another person. 

This all means that it is hard to warm to Emily as a narrator, either as a girl or as an adult.  The performance by Tavia Gilbert of the unabridged audiobook really emphasizes the steely, smart-mouthed quality of Emily's character.  It's a distinctive novel, impressive in its use of language, and its ability to evoke emotions in the listener.  Emily gets upset by her unhappy neglectful parents and her strained relationships with men, but she focuses on the surface, and isn't particularly curious to find out more about herself or other people.   The Adults is a novel in a tradition of stories about the unhappy families in the upper echelons of society, but it's not clear how much it has to say about them.  

In a self-interview this year in an online magazine, she explains why she writes about unlikeable characters.  "I like flaws. I think deviancy is a bit more interesting than conformity, and honesty is more valuable than niceness, especially in fiction--does that make me horrible as well?"  It's a brave stance, and could make for a really interesting book.  It is a relief to have a book that is not framed as bad things happening to good people.  But the novel needs something more, to help us feel some empathy for Emily.  I wish we had seen Emily do some psychotherapy: that might have made her more transparent. 

 

Link: Dreamscape Audiobooks

 

© 2011 Christian Perring        

  

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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