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All Adults Here

Review

All Adults Here

Emma Straub, the bestselling author of beloved and highly acclaimed works like THE VACATIONERS and MODERN LOVERS, returns with ALL ADULTS HERE, a novel that focuses on the ways in which the Strick family falls apart --- and comes back together. Combining her signature wit and wisdom with a cast of deeply human characters, this is Straub at her finest, with her sharp eye set firmly on the trials and tribulations of adulthood at any age.

Sixty-eight-year-old Astrid Strick could best be described as “sturdy.” She is unflappable and dependable in a crisis, but not necessarily the person who will comfort you after everything has been taken care of and put away in its proper place. Widowed when her youngest child was still in high school, Astrid has grown accustomed to her neat, orderly life of maintaining the family “Big House” and chasing after her three adult children. But at the start of the book, Astrid is sent reeling when she watches a school bus mow down her acquaintance of 40 years, Barbara. Astrid never particularly liked Barbara, but her untimely death reminds Astrid that life is fleeting, and if she has anything she wants to share with the world, now is the time. It turns out that Astrid --- sturdy, dependable, boring Astrid --- has quite the secret.

"Combining her signature wit and wisdom with a cast of deeply human characters, this is Straub at her finest, with her sharp eye set firmly on the trials and tribulations of adulthood at any age."

For years, Astrid has been carrying on a relationship with her female hairdresser, Birdie, and no one knows about it. She hasn’t kept it a secret per se, but every time she has tried to tell her family, something else has come up: the turkey was ready, Birdie was out of town, her grandchildren woke up from their naps. But now, with the reality that she has been living a double life hitting her right in the face, Astrid realizes that Birdie isn’t her only secret. The shock of Barbara’s tragic death combined with her planned confession reminds her of the reason that she had avoided Barbara for so long --- and it isn’t very flattering. For the first time ever, she is acknowledging that she might not have always been the perfect mother, and she might not really know her children at all.

Meanwhile, Astrid’s children are learning things about themselves, too. Her eldest son, Elliot, is as serious as Astrid, but with a perfectionist’s edge; he holds himself to unreachable standards and becomes totally paralyzed at the thought of making any real, grown-up decisions. He has a wonderful wife and two monstrous sons, but cannot seem to find the acceptance he yearns for --- and Astrid, so far, hasn’t been great at supplying it. Then there’s Porter, Astrid’s only daughter, a cheese farmer who has recently decided to get pregnant...on her own. With a history of failed relationships and a penchant for drama, Porter’s pregnancy is a surprise, but not a total shock. What is shocking is that she suddenly can’t stop thinking about and fantasizing over her married ex-boyfriend. Last of all is Nicky, Astrid’s handsome, charming baby boy. Once a one-hit-wonder of a movie star, Nicky now lives a bohemian life with his dancer wife and teenage daughter, Claudia, in New York City. Though Nicky lives the farthest from Astrid, he has unceremoniously shipped his daughter off to her Grammy’s for the summer, where she can live out an embarrassing and bully-fueled end to her school year.

Alternating perspectives among Astrid, Elliot, Porter, Nicky, Claudia and Claudia’s new friend, ALL ADULTS HERE follows the Strick family as they recognize that being a grown-up is more than just turning a certain age, having a mortgage or even becoming a parent. Although it is much more character-driven than plot-based, the book still unfolds like a mystery as these individuals learn about each other and themselves --- and start to realize that no one is ever really done coming of age. Straub infuses her usual wisdom and insight into the story, and her characters are wonderfully messy and undone. Porter and Claudia in particular shine; their character arcs were not only satisfying, they were full of tremendous growth and self-awareness. To watch them --- and Astrid --- grow and develop amidst Straub’s signature warmth and humor was a joy.

That said, I was not truly hooked until about a third of the way in. The Stricks are complicated and fully realized, yet I found it difficult to care about the mistakes they made and were making as they were introduced. Instead, it was Straub’s gift for exposing the universal in the minute that pushed me forward, focusing on her insights into family life, marriage and careers, rather than the journeys of her characters. The payoff is there in the end, and her talent for expressing monumental truths in perfectly quotable phrases remains as strong as ever, but the Stricks may struggle to find a warm welcome with readers at first.

ALL ADULTS HERE is sure to be a hit with Straub's fans and newcomers alike. No author grasps the true meaning of family better than Straub, who is as unflinching as she is compassionate in her renderings of a family as complex and layered as the Stricks.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 8, 2020

All Adults Here
by Emma Straub

  • Publication Date: May 4, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1594634696
  • ISBN-13: 9781594634697