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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Dreamscape Media; Unabridged edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161120013X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611200133
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,637,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 32 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 FAME 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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Patricia VINE VOICE on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very engrossing book - once the story line catches your attention, it very hard to put down. I didn't realize that it was a coming of age story - the title "The Adults" made me think otherwise; however, even though it starts with teenagers and their views of the adults in their lives (initially very funny until the plot deepens), we follow them into adulthood and see the fallout of what occurred when they were younger. I don't like to give away any of the plot but Alison Espach has written a powerful story. The dialogue can be hilarious but the themes are deep and brooding. The characters are developed very deeply and lovingly and you feel you know them personally. Anyone who deals with adolescent development or wants to see the effects of adult behavior on the teenagers, will find profound insights here. I also recommend it to anyone who wants a good read. The language is quite explicit, of course, but not out of line or offensive - just reporting reality. Read it!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By crosejones on September 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
I have attempted to describe why this book is so moving to many friends since completing it just a few days ago. Aryn Kyle's review (above) puts into words the feelings I have for it. Although this book had a somewhat slow start and was at first difficult to navigate as the author's writing style takes some getting used to (jumps from different points in the protagonists life), the book was entirely captivating. Emily's small realizations about her life and life in general are genuine and those that we all make come to in our lives. I enjoyed that the author painted flaws and redeeming qualities in each character she drafted. The story also blurrs the lines of morality and reveals that life is not cut-and-dry - sometimes we do not make the best choices, but we certainly have to live with them. This doesn't make us bad, instead makes us human. Great read and entirely memorable.
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