All Adults Here by Emma Straub is a novel about communication – about how we think we know how people are and what they intend when we interact with them. But do we really? As I read, without any religious interpretation (just to be clear—I hope), I kept thinking about the phrase, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” And, can we even really know what an author intends, and does that matter if the reader understands something different?
There were nine of us at the meeting, three who had not finished the book, and we started the discussion by talking about misandry. [i] I was fascinated when I read an interview in which Emma Straub is quoted as suggesting that her novel “may be ‘slightly misandrist, because that’s how I was feeling when I was writing it, that men are the problem.’”[ii] Before I read All Adults Here, I never knew there was a word for the hatred of men.
Most of us were not fans of the book. All of the characters had problems – so many that it was hard to relate and not that interesting. One member felt reading it was a total waste of time, but she did like Cecilia. Rachel was also a nice surprise as Porter’s pregnant long-time friend and Cecilia’s teacher. Another member considered that the author seemed to be covering one social norm after another, but she liked that Astrid apologized for asking Elliot to hide his possible homosexuality. Still another of us felt that Astrid was brave and had improved and softened. When we read Astrid’s perspective, she certainly didn’t seem to be the hard-edged mother her children believed her to be.
We talked about birth order, and nature versus nurture, but we didn’t really come to any conclusions. One member said that of five boys in his family, three were homosexual, one older, one younger, and one in the middle. He particularly appreciated the sibling relationship. Although he had not yet finished the book, he found it to be as humorous as the reviews indicated, primarily because he could identify with things that happened and knew them to be true, such as Astrid’s reaction to hearing that her son had been seen kissing another boy and her declaration that she was not a lesbian—she was bisexual. This member said he has known women to consider themselves heterosexual but find that they fall in love with one particular woman. This made us consider what makes us horrified, such as at the twins’ monstrous behavior or Cecelia’s bloody-babysitting adventure, versus finding it humorous.
The characters were definitely privileged. One of us grew up in the Hudson Valley setting and found it accurate. We discussed generational changes – hair washed and set weekly and shoes shined versus today’s torn jeans and bald-shaved heads. We thought Robin’s coming out on the parade, although exemplary, happened too easily. Several of us considered Barbara’s viewpoint at the end to be unnecessary, making it remarkable, almost pointed, that she left out Jeremy’s, Sydney’s, Juliette’s, or Robin’s parents’ views. I suppose that is how it always is—the author’s views!
Mostly, we were disappointed not to know what Elliot decided to do with the property on the town square. I suppose we need to leave something to the imagination!
- Other works discussed:
- This Is How It Always Is (2018) by Laurie Frankel
[ii] Lipman, J. (2020, September 2). “It feels like sometimes you’re living on Mars”. Thejc.com. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.thejc.com/culture/interviews/it-feels-like-sometimes-you-re-living-on-mars-1.506113