I’m a sucker for a good debut . Truth be told, great debuts confound me. They seem like things that really shouldn’t exist, a thing that defies logic and physics; something that should be placed on Stephen Hawking’s desk for him to investigate and extrapolate. Something like antimatter. Or William Shatner’s secret at defying the ageing process. The Adults by Alison Espach doesn’t quite reach the ‘stop the presses, someone call Superman’ caliber of a fiction debut, but it’s definitely no slouch.
The Adults finds Espach finding her voice within the very singular voice of the protagonist. The Adults is the story of a girl, Emily, growing into a woman in New England during the late 80’s through the early aught’s. And although much of it seems very time and location specific, so it goes when growing into an adult. The person one becomes is very much influenced by where she or he grew up. The upper crust of Connecticut facet of the novel didn’t interest me much, but the author seamlessly married this aspect of the protagonist’s childhood with the person Emily will eventually become. The beginning part of the novel, Emily’s teenage years, doesn’t so much stumble as suffer from being outshone by the rest of the novel. It’s in the second part of the novel, after Emily graduates from college, that Espach truly finds her voice. The narrator is less snarky, less of a catholic-school girl brand of snob which allows the reader to more willingly identify with her. She is more emotionally generous, which I found to be a relief. Emily doesn’t lack for a willful disposition, Espach infuses this within Emily’s personality traits from the beginning, but when she shows her vulnerability is when she really shines. It will be interesting to see what other tricks Espach has up her sleeve. She’s demonstrated an incredible ability to combine tragedy and heartbreak with humor and a certain adolescent awareness. It’s wonderful to watch Emily transform from a snide yet fragile teenager into a world weary, three dimensional character.