All Adults Here

The notion of parental love consumes Emma Straub's endearing characters in All Adults Here. As the novel begins, 68-year-old Astrid Strick watches an empty school bus plow down Barbara Baker, a fixture in their Hudson Valley town of Clapham. Although Astrid didn't like Barbara--"not for a single day of their forty-year-acquaintance," Straub writes in her deliciously withering opener--the death forecloses Astrid's chance to resolve something with Barbara that happened decades earlier and concerned Astrid's eldest child, Elliot. Nevertheless, Astrid feels obliged to interpret Barbara's death as a prompt to forge a less steely persona, and she takes the opportunity of a family brunch to tell her kin that she has been in reciprocal love with a woman for the past several years.

Another secret keeper is Astrid's middle child, 38-year-old Porter, a dairy farmer who still lives in Clapham. About halfway through a pregnancy made possible by a sperm bank, Porter is leery of breaking the news to Astrid, but Porter must concede that her mom's confession was like a cattle prod. And when Cecelia, the 13-year-old daughter of Astrid's youngest child, Nicky, gets in trouble at her Brooklyn school, she is handed her off to her grandmother Astrid, so that the girl can make a fresh start at Clapham Junior High.

Cecelia's late-summer arrival, like Barbara's death, launches All Adults Here, some of whose fine moments are gasp-worthy. Straub (Modern Lovers) belongs in the company of Cathleen Schine, Tom Perrotta and other fiction writers who understand that the degree of humor that can be teased from family drama is often directly proportional to the extent of the family's misery. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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