Book review: All Adults Here by Emma Straub

all adults here by emma straubAstrid Strick is the matriarch of a middle-class family in Clapham, a small town in New York State. She is having an ordinary day until she is confronted by the sudden death of a neighbour who she didn’t even consider a friend.

This brush with mortality leads her to make a life-changing decision which has implications for all her family. Meanwhile her children and granddaughter are going through crises of their own. The events of the coming weeks cause them all to reassess their relationships.

All Adults Here is a light and engaging read, but it is by no means trivial. It asks some profound questions about identity, how we’re shaped by our past and how the love of family and community can be a bind as well as a joy.

Astrid’s eldest child, Elliott, runs a business in the town. He is successful but somehow not the person he thought he would be. He feels unable to escape people’s expectations of him, particularly in a small town where everyone has known him all his life.

His sister, Porter, also has a very different business and lives nearby. Porter is single but is thinking now is her last chance to have a child. Looking forward to parenthood leads her to have one final fling with her past.

Nicky, the son who got away, has his identity trapped in a different way. As a young man he starred in a small independent movie which gained a cult following, and everywhere he goes he is recognised, forever viewed as the character he played.

All Adults Here asks some searching questions about parenthood. Elliott is struggling to adjust to life with baby twins. Nicky, the father of a teenager, thinks his charm and easy-going manner are enough to get him through. Porter is preparing a life for her child that will be different from her own conventional upbringing.

For Astrid, parenthood seems to be life without parole. She is still intimately involved with her children’s lives, or, in the case of Nicky, wishing she was. She is eaten up with regrets for things said and done – or things she failed to say and do.

There are a lot of novels about (and by!) children who think their lives have been ruined by their messed-up parents (as articulated by Philip Larkin) but not so many about the reverse. As someone who has been a child but not a parent, I’ve tended to accept this perspective a little too uncritically. In All Adults Here, the eternal burden of being a parent is laid bare and I’m rather glad to have followed Larkin’s advice on the matter.

The ending was perhaps a little too sweet and neat for my taste. While I’m quite prepared to believe that people have life-changing moments, it’s a little convenient when half-a-dozen of them all have one at the same time.

However this is, as the New York Times blurb says, “literary sunshine” rather than social realism. If you’re looking for a holiday read which is light and engaging but also has some substance, this would be a good choice.

I received a copy of All Adults Here from the publisher via Netgalley.
View All Adults Here on Goodreads

2 Comments

  1. I’ve long meant to read something by Emma Straub. This sounds like it would be a good pick as a beginning. I love the fact that she’s started her own bookshop. What a dream! (If a difficult-to-sustain dream, nowadays.)

    Liked by 1 person

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