Family secrets come soothingly to light in Straub’s fifth novel.
Reading Emma Straub’s breezy new novel All Adults Here left me with a pleasantly soothed feeling, as if I had just finished binge-watching a season of Grace and Frankie and might follow it up by strolling through a little village on the Hudson to get some artisanal ice cream, or taking a nap in a hammock next to some honeysuckle. It’s a gentle, friendly book, a classic beach read that will work just fine even now, when most of us can’t go to the beach.
All Adults Here concerns the Strick family, a mildly dysfunctional collection of WASPs who are headquartered in a picturesque village in the Hudson Valley, but who have scattered to the four winds now that the children are (just like the title) All Adults Here. But after the tough-as-nails widowed matriarch Astrid witnesses her longtime frenemy getting hit by a school bus, she decides to call the family back together. Life is short, and so she no longer wants to hide from her family the fact that she’s been dating a woman for the past five years.
But Astrid isn’t the only family member with a secret. Porter, the only daughter, is pregnant via IVF, with no partner in sight. Rule-following eldest son Elliott has secretly purchased one of Astrid’s favorite historical buildings, and he’s weighing the options of making his mark by bringing a big chain store into the town. And family golden boy Nicky has decided to send his 13-year-old daughter Cecilia to live with Astrid after she has gotten into some sort of murky and unspecified trouble at school.
All these secrets will emerge as this family of well-meaning, basically decent people work really hard to figure out how to be kind and supportive to one another in the best possible way, and the entire process is so, so calming. This book is soothing in the way a Nancy Meyers kitchen is soothing: Look at this old-money good taste, this place of fantastic order from which low-stakes problems can be swiftly set to rest.
It helps that Straub writes the kind of serene, orderly sentences that allow you to trust her instantly. Her prose is straightforward and limpid, and you just know as you read that she has never once misplaced a word. She might have misplaced a pronoun, though. One supporting character in All Adults Here is trans, but although the character identifies as a girl, Straub consistently uses he/him pronouns for her whenever she’s dressed in boy’s clothes — and continues even when the character is narrating the story herself, as though her gender identity depends entirely on her wardrobe. It’s a disappointing false step for an author otherwise in complete control of her story.
Still, All Adults Here remains an immensely charming and warmhearted book. It’s a vacation for the soul, and it’s come along at a time when we all really, really need a vacation.
The ideal scenario for reading it would be as a tension break in between solving murders in a cozy New England fishing village while wearing a variety of functional yet chic chunky knits. But failing that, the second-best way to read it is inside, social distancing from the rest of the world, and letting Emma Straub give you an escape.
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