“Your late twenties is not the time for playing dumb.”
(Pick it up on Amazon in hardcover for only $10!)
When reading, I like to make myself rules. One of those rules is that I alternate between classics and contemporary fiction. That way, I can eventually become more knowledgeable about the supposed “greatest books ever written” without losing my grip on what people actually read these days. Recently having finished Cat’s Cradle (which was excellent), I decided to give The Adults by Alison Espach a go. I was drawn into purchasing this one after checking out the cover (a Slim Aarons-esque photograph of a tipped-over garden table, suggesting trouble in paradise) featuring its plain but effective font and title. It was featured on the New Authors shelf and I figured, why not. I feel that I should take more risks with what I read because this one certainly paid off.
The world that Alison conjures up is one of children and adults but as the story progresses, it becomes hard to differentiate the two. Emily Vidal is the main character, an old soul who has seen way more than any girl of fifteen should ever have to witness. Within the first few pages of the book, we get a true glimpse into her version of suburbia. Her neighborhood is affluent; people drive nice cars and have high-paying jobs; her father has a three-thousand dollar desk in his study. Though her upbringing was without money troubles, Emily’s childhood was not The Wonder Years. For instance, it becomes clear very fast that her parents are not happy together when her father decides to flirt with the woman across the street. This action serves as the spark setting off a chain of events that would alter how Emily lives her life as well as how she comprehends the world around her, plunging head-first into the world of adults, encountering suicide, sex, love, and loss.
However, the focal point of this story is the relationship that blossoms between Emily and her teacher, Mr. Basketball. While still creepy, this relationship is a far throw from that which was portrayed in Lolita. Mr. Basketball is not a middle-aged professor (with an oddly uncomfortable nickname, I might add) but a twenty-four year old, a fresh face in the faculty. I breathed easier realizing that their relationship would only be considered statutory rape and not the full-out kidnapping/rape-slave pedo-fantasy of Lolita (which, despite my description, is an incredible read). Yet, seeing Mr. Basketball through Emily’s point of view, he is still very old and living a very adult lifestyle. He’s independent, he has a messy apartment, he can legally drink alcohol, etc. Despite the age difference, theirs is a connection that endures, as the character has the tendency of popping up in Emily’s life when she least expects it throughout the story. This ultimately poses the question: can a relationship between two people from such different points in their lives survive the turmoil of growing up?
The book is divided into sections, mapping out distinctly different eras in Emily’s life: 1. Her teenage years, living at home in Connecticut, 2. Her early 20’s, living abroad, 3. Her late 20’s, living in Brooklyn. This story has the tendency to jump around a little bit, rendering the plot a little less linear than I would have liked with such a storyline, but it never became too distracting. As we watch Emily grow and struggle through the years, she has many insightful epiphanies, the most important one being that you never truly grow up.
The Adults was a great debut novel and I recommend it if you’re looking for a funny, poignant read about growing up and its countless complexities.