Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Adults by Alison Espach

All of my favorite novels go a little like this: A young woman (usually but not always high school aged) meets a man that is enough older than her that he is significantly older. The (usually inappropriate) relationship starts. Some seemingly world-ending (or ever day) event happens and they are torn apart. The separation continues for years until, one day, fate or sex bring them together again. But there’s more conflict! The conflict is always followed by a second drift. New lives be damned, though, inevitably—like it’s nothing—there they are again, together. They were put on this earth to torture one another and live in the squalid remnants of a basement-level-sorrow-inducing love. The book ends and you want to wail and gnash your teeth and beat your chest or listen to REM in the dark.

This probably means something is wrong with me.

Anyway, this is one of those novels. I discovered it when I was on my MFA-school-success-story-authors-only kick. (If you are wondering, though you probably aren’t, I didn’t get into McNeese and I did get into George Mason and I’ll be studying something else entirely at neither of those schools.) Espach studied at Washington University in St. Louis, where she learned how to write some incredibly clever dialogue. (Or maybe she went in writing incredibly clever dialogue. I don’t know.) Sometimes it’s so incredibly clever that I want to put her characters in time out for being so witty all the time because it’s just positively exhausting. I keep starting to type out examples, but they’re just lost out of context. So are all the lines that made me feel like Espach was sucker punching me.

There’s more than just the relationship between the girl and her English teacher, of course. In the beginning, there’s the uncomfortable and cringe-worthy stretch of passages that accompany all coming of age tales that make you feel like you need to scrub your face or you’ll turn into an awkward fourteen year old again. There’s suicide and the breakdown of the nuclear family unit in upper class America and a whole exciting section about studying interior design in Prague (that’s not sarcasm) and passages that will make you roll your eyes about how college boys try to seem sensitive by listening to Portishead while they screw you. Etc.

Finally, the cover. I am covetous of this cover art. I like to picture the jackets of the books that I imagine writing (but haven’t written because I’m lazy) and I am a little upset that I know this is a jacket that will never be mine.

I leave you with a passage… but first, an explanation. Emily, the main character, discovers that there’s a church in Prague made entirely out of human bones. When her younger sister’s dog dies, the sister requests Emily get the dog out of the house before she goes to sleep and bury it because she doesn’t want to dream in the same space as something dead. Emily puts the dead dog in a suitcase, calls up her ex-lover who happens to be in Prague on business, and has him meet her so that they can go to the bone museum to bury the dog because that’s what seems sensible at the time. On the way, however, they stop at a club to smoke pot and he decides to tell her that he’s married, which ruins this chapter of their reunion. The dead dog suitcase never makes it to the bone yard. He walks her back to her place and doesn't kiss her goodnight because he feels like he's cheating now that she knows about his wife whereas somehow he didn't before. Everything is miserable. Now, the passage:

"No matter where we went, we always ended up back where we started. I laid my head down on the pillow and when I tried to dream of some other life, Jonathon was right—there was no bell that tolled at midnight. But there was a garland of arms lining the entrance of the church. There were elbows flanking the altar. There were strings of skulls draped over windows like curtains, like, welcome, like, hey, like, Why don’t you kneel down and make yourself at home? Why don’t you prepare your bones to be something more elaborate than yourself"?


Brent Waggoner said...

There is hope!

cchilton said...

I was suspicious about the description of this but I kind of like the bit about the bone church.