The Adults is about Emily Vidal, a 14 year old in an affluent Connecticut suburb, whose parents announce they are divorcing, right before the start of a giant lawn party to celebrate Emily’s father’s birthday. This is Espach’s first novel.
I went into this book thinking it would remind me of my own parents’ divorce, but I was wrong. Emily’s life is a good deal more dramatic than mine was. At the party, Emily and her close friend Mark witness her father kissing Mark’s mother. This puts the divorce in an entirely new light, and it’s a terrible thing to see how much Emily loses in that moment. Right there you can see that her relationship with her father and with her best friend are going to be broken irreparably.
My father was on the verge of leaving us. He didn’t say it like this. In fact, nobody said it like this. We weren’t allowed to speak of his distance. We just watched him move slowly out of the house one box at a time, as though it were becoming a tiresome project to leave this life behind, an operation that required way too much packing tape. I was at the window, or outside on the driveway, or somewhere else entirely, and if anybody bothered to ask what I was learning in school, this was the answer I was preparing: a person can feel equally alone anywhere; you can be just as lonely in biology class holding a rabbit as you can standing next to a window in the middle of September as you can watching older people on television take each others’ clothes off.
Emily is smart, sarcastic, and says things that are witty beyond her years. Yet she’s entirely believable as an adolescent because her view of the world is so naive and egocentric. She’s at an age where everything is changing, all the time, and the collapse of her family makes everything worse. Her closest friend at school talks about nothing but sex, especially with their twenty-something, hot English teacher. Emily is thrown into a world of parties and sexuality she’s not ready for, without anyone at home she can talk to, and it seems for a while she lets everyone else tell her who she is and what she should do.
Espach’s writing style is the reason to read this book. She captures more in a sentence sometimes than other writers do in pages. There were so many moments in this book that I thought, “that’s it, exactly.”
Children’s lives are always beginning and adults’ lives are always ending. Or is it the opposite? Your childhood is always ending and your adult self is always beginning. You are always learning how to say good-by to whoever you were at the dinner table the night before.
Emily enters into a relationship and it’s clear (and tragic) how impaired her judgment is. She talks about being in love but seems to have no idea what that means, only that she can’t let it go. Emily isn’t always likeable; she’s self-centered , she makes lousy decisions, and she isn’t always there for friends and family. But she’s at an age where you expect those things.
Unfortunately, the story goes on for a bit too long in a lot of places. Emily goes to college, then grad school — there is a long segment of the book that takes place in Prague, which was cool mainly because I was just there. But the story just seems to meander for a while. Emily’s career seems unrealistic, more symbolic than something she actually does.
I closed my eyes, overwhelmed by the infinite ways to live a finite life. I wanted to run out of my apartment until the street signs and passing cars ripped me of my belongings, until the wind had worn me down to sand.
In the end, the book comes together for me, because it tells you this – that the scars of our teenage years don’t go away just because we become adults. Who we are at 14 or 16, stays with us for a long time. We can make our lives better, we can become stronger, wiser people, but we are ultimately shaped by our adolescent years.