The Adults by Alison Espach

After witnessing an awful tragedy, a young woman becomes obsessed with a teacher at her school and never quite gets her life where she thinks it needs to be.

Listen, you don’t pick up a book like The Adults because of the plot synopsis. You pick it up because you’re hoping that the author has figured out a new way to say old things. And in the case of Alison Espach, you would be absolutely correct.

The title is a deliberately misleading one. The adults in the story act like children, while the children and teenagers seem to be expected to have a maturity beyond their years. Espach gives us a coming-of-age story and then continues to tease it out well into Emily’s adulthood, so that cause and effect lose their psychoanalytic power and we realize that you can’t fully understand a person simply because you can list the important events in her life.

I’m forgetting myself. The best part about the book is Espach’s clever writing. Here’s my favorite passage:

Janice called. Over the phone, Janice and I laughed about all the things the Other Girls had said that week, and I welcomed the relief from my mother. “Brittany told Mr. Basketball that she was worried about him because he had such an amazing body,” Janice said, and when I laughed, she added, “I’d die without you.” I agreed, even though I knew I was not the kind of person who would die from grief. I was the kind of person who would sit with grief on the couch until grief died, who would watch reruns of game shows while grief guessed the price of a can of green beans. Seventy-nine cents! Grief was always right. Grief went to the supermarket a lot.

And my second favorite:

My father and I didn’t get to spend that much time alone together, except when he took me out to dinner on Wednesdays, and when he ordered Shiraz, he always said, ‘Let’s celebrate,’ like Happy Wednesday, Daughter, hope it was better than Tuesday, though I hope your Tuesday was great too, and I never asked what people clapped about during the middle of the week and he never held out his glass to toast anything. We just liked to say things: “Hi, Father,” I said with a grin. “I’m your daughter Emily and we just like to say things.”

The writing is witty and funny but the story is deep and dark. I wish Emily were real so we could go out for drinks. She’s my kind of girl. I’ll have to settle for recommending this to some well-read women I admire in real life.

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