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The Adults: A Novel Paperback – September 6, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439191867
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439191866
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Exclusive: Aryn Kyle Reviews The Adults

Aryn Kyle is the author of Boys and Girls Like You and Me and The God of Animals.

While I was reading this novel, I found myself carrying it around with me so that I could read bits of it aloud to my friends. "Listen to this line," I would tell them. "Listen to this paragraph." Alison Espach doesn’t just understand the thrills and terrors and confusion that make up that rocky, winding path between childhood and adulthood, but she manages to convey them with such perfect pitch, such authenticity and humor and tenderness, that I found myself returning to passages again and again, simply for the pleasure of reading her prose. "Listen to the way she describes this scene," I told my friends. "Listen to the way she starts this chapter." "Listen to the way she ends it."

The Adults follows Emily Vidal, a sharp-eyed but sensitive girl, from early adolescence into early adulthood. As the novel opens, the cozy world of Emily’s affluent Connecticut upbringing begins to simultaneously dissolve and expand with the divorce of her parents. While her mother and father struggle to restructure their lives without each other, Emily is left to navigate her increasingly complicated world mostly on her own.

Coming-of-age stories seem to be a dime a dozen, maybe because everybody has one: We all grow up. Well, we try.

What makes The Adults unique is also, I believe, what makes it universal: The book froths with the frenetic energy of adolescence, the giddiness and the fear, the nastiness and vulnerability, the humor so deftly juxtaposed with the heartbreak that within the span of a single paragraph I would find myself laughing out loud, then aching with sadness.

There’s a fearlessness about Espach’s writing, an authority that makes this novel, once started, almost impossible to put down. The real accomplishment of The Adults, however, is not the unflinching insights or the razor-edged prose, but the underlying tenderness Espach conveys for her characters. These are deeply flawed and wounded people, characters that might, in less capable hands, be difficult to like and easy to judge. But through small moments and brief encounters, Espach expertly portrays the vast complexities of all her characters, making them loveable even when they’re not especially likable.

This is an honest and brutally funny novel about choices and mistakes, acceptance and forgiveness, about the people we love and the people we leave as we pass from childhood into adulthood. Whatever that might be.

Photo Credit: Miriam Berkley

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In Espach's charming coming-of-age debut, 14-year-old Emily Vidal's life begins to veer off course at her father's 50th birthday party when he announces that he and her mother are divorcing. The birthday night ends with dad kissing the neighbor, Mrs. Resnick, in the woods, where Emily and Mrs. Resnick's son, Mark, discover them. The disorienting discoveries continue: Mark's ailing father commits suicide, and Mrs. Resnick is pregnant with Emily's dad's baby. With dad off to Prague and her mother undone by the affair and hitting the bottle, Emily loses faith in all the adults around her, even as she is becoming one of them. Emily starts an affair with an English teacher 10 years her senior, mostly to see how far she can go, which turns out to be pretty far. She and the teacher, Jonathan, who leaves teaching to become a lawyer, return to each other again and again as Emily graduates from college and moves to Prague to be with her father. Espach perfects the snarky, postironic deadpan of the 1990s and teenagers everywhere, and her ear for modern speech and eye for fresh detail transform a familiar story into an education in what it means to be a grown-up. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Alison Espach grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut, where she lived for most of her life. She earned her Masters in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, and she now teaches in New York City. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney's, Five Chapters, Glamour, Salon, The Daily Beast, Writer's Digest, and other journals. The Adults, her first novel, was selected as a Wall Street Journal Top 10 Novel of 2011, a New York Time's Editor's Choice, and a "Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers" pick for Spring 2011. Her short story "Someone's Uncle" is now available as an e-book for 99 cents.

Customer Reviews

I would rate this a zero if I could.
Angela Runions
The characters feel real, as do their flaws, emotions, and their dialogue.
A.J. Kight
What could have been a great book, was in the end, just good.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Leah on February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alison Espach's wry, darkly scintillating debut, THE ADULTS, is a bildungsroman set in 1990s suburban Connecticut, and follows protagonist Emily Vidal (rhymes with Midol) as she matures from a precocious 14-year-old girl to a woman in her late 20s. Emily's world of comically absurd lawn parties and loving familial togetherness comes apart when her father walks out on the family. In quick succession, Emily loses her childhood innocence as she encounters suicide, sex, violence, and loss.

The central romance in the book revolves around the taboo teacher/student sexual relationship. Espach handles this deftly, showing both the obsessive love that continually draws Emily and Jonathan to each other over the years, as well as the guilt and self-doubt that plagues each of them. Espach paints Jonathan through Emily's eyes, portraying him as charming and sympathetic without glossing over his faults and the essential wrongness at the foundation of the relationship.

There are no neat, pat answers in THE ADULTS. Things that begin destructively--taking advantage of a minor, committing adultery--can lead to beauty and moments of transcendent happiness. Is a child born of adultery any less deserving of happiness? Is love born of what is legally considered statutory rape, albeit between consenting parties, irrevocably tainted?

Espach's writing is superb. Each page is littered with tiny epiphanies as Emily constantly rediscovers and reinterprets people, the world, life. The dialogue is frequently hilarious in its self-referential deadpan. Characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, their flaws endearing or at least understandable.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Jen on January 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I came across this book in People magazine's Style Watch, and decided to give it a try. I was certainly not disappointed. Not only is the story original and edgy, but Espach has found a way of capturing human emotion and experience like no other. This book will make you laugh one moment and cry the next. The twists in Emily's life are written in such a way that she becomes a relatable, loveable character who you will root for. I couldn't put this one down. I highly recommend!!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Rarely have I read first novels that are truly captivating, with memorable characters and settings that will endure long in my memory. Even rarer still are those first novels that represent the emergence of a truly original literary voice replete with memorable, truly exceptional, prose. Over the span of two and a half decades, only four first novels have I found quite captivating and notable as exceptional debuts by their authors, who have become since important writers of modern Anglo-American literature; William Gibson's "Neuromancer", Matt Ruff's "Fool on the Hill", Jeffrey Eugenides's "The Virgin Suicides", and Jonathan Lethem's "Gun, With Occasional Music". To this list I must add Alison Espach's "The Adults". Like the writers of these novels, Espach excels as a riveting storyteller who relies on a compelling character-driven plot notable for the superb literary quality of her prose and a keen ear for both language and detail.

At once Espach has become as important a chronicler of dysfunctional suburban American family life as the finest living American writer of my generation, Rick Moody, has been, most notably, in his novels "The Ice Storm" and "Purple America" and short story collection "Demonology". In "The Adults" she offers an often terrifying, but still mesmerizing, account of the trials and tribulations of adolescent girls as they mature into adulthood. It is all too easy to refer to her tale mistakenly as a fine example of suburban dystopia, but her novel is not a classic example of near future science fiction, but instead, a near classic one that is set in the recent past and the present.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Lysander on March 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first thing that struck me about Espach's novel The Adults is just how funny it was. There were several moments when my girlfriend would wander into the room to ask me what I was laughing about -- and it would be this novel. The heroine, Emily Vidal, has a nice deadpan to her -- the author catches that right balance of taking things too seriously and not seriously enough that reminds me a lot of what it was like to be an teenager: "Janice would cheer for a boy, sometimes Peter Barnes or Ben Mulligan or even Richard, always as a joke, screaming, 'Woo!' That was another thing: enthusiasm had to be fake."

Subjected to this indifferent snare, the pretentious adults in the novel become funny caricatures: " 'It's the permanence that makes the dead beautiful,' the curly-haired main sad at some point, as though my mother had asked, which I know she didn't since the only possible question that would have preceded such an answer was, What do you think makes the dead so beautiful?" Although my favorite part is the first half of the novel (while Emily is a teenager), this humor runs throughout the book.

Emily is really the center of the story, other characters serving as mere satellites. Although I find that Mr. Basketball's character left me a little cold, occasionally bored, the family characters are well-drawn: the father, the mother, and Laura. More strikingly, some characters make those brief cameos that stick in your head: a health teacher who describes his own kidney stones in too much detail (the boys at school say after the surgery that Mr. Heller is "so gay he put a rod up his own dick") or the stranger at the bar in Prague who doesn't have a pen, but is so desperate that he asks Emily to carve her address into his arm with a bottle opener.
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