Welcome to the first edition of TehBen.com’s official book club! Not unlike the all-powerful queen Oprah’s discussion group of a similar name, we too hope to achieve near-cult-like status by recommending and reviewing novels for you, the dear sweet pulpy masses, to enjoy. Let’s not waste any time, and let’s dig into this debut episode’s selection! Shifting gears slightly from what we’ve been reading lately, we decided to examine sexuality and humor from a broader “coming of age” perspective, free from the constricting confines of that particular “vault.” It’s good to see sunshine again…
Now That We’re Adults by Lynn Almengor tells the story of an interconnecting group of nerdy twenty-somethings that start to feel the anxieties of having to deal with the real world. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also about how those problems can affect their personal relationships of both the friendly and romantic variety. Brothers as well as best friends, Ian and Wade appear to be at opposite ends of the “adulting” spectrum. The story begins with the elder Ian’s picture-perfect wedding with the seemingly no less perfect Kat. Wade on the other hand, can’t quite seem to grow up, and seems to wish that romantic relationships could permanently stay in the care-free “let’s play video games and make-out” sort of scene. Several hundred miles away another astray millennial, Eleanor, suddenly moves to the story’s shared setting of Scranton, PA with a disconnected personal history that is slowly pieced together with the progression of the rest of the events in the novel. Overall, each of the characters are extremely identifiable (to a fault), with absolutely believable and relatable issues. The pacing of these events also construes realism, and may bring back fond (or unfortunate) memories to a time when we all thought we had life figured out. Whether it’s sibling rivalry, conflict with parents, or just figuring out how to BELONG in adulthood, the author paints a humorous nostalgic picture to those old enough to have experienced some of these things first-hand.
Character development is certainly the most important part of any “coming of age” work of fiction and for the most part, Now That We’re Adults accomplishes this quite well. Wade, who at least to me appears to be the novel’s true main character, goes through heartbreak, triumph, confusion, rejection, and about twenty other significant emotional moments over the length of the story, and he seems to come out better on the other side for everything he goes through. Wade’s traumatic experiences cause him to devote much of his time to creating his own indie video game, and appears to grow as a person as his game comes to fruition. The cost of this exploration however, appears to be the allegory employed from the other characters, particularly through the lens of Kat and Ian’s marriage. While topical and real, the character development through this marriage appears more to serve as a storefront for conflicts of the “modern relationship” with most if not all of the usual check-boxes ticked: the concept of family, changing a last name, child care, and childbirth to name a few. What is done well here, however, is the slowly discovered truth that Ian and Kat are far from perfect, and that there’s no such thing as a true storybook marriage. Kat feels that most everything she’s done in life is to help or please others, and is starting to rebel from those confines in rather unfortunate ways. Ian, on the other hand, has tendencies to the traditional “nuclear family” ideals, which are simply untenable in the 21st century.
Now let’s talk about the ending. I promise to be as spoiler free as possible…but I simply can’t let this go. For the first 7/8ths of the novel, the build up of the connecting stories was fantastic, and made me want to press on, despite my lack of sleep and voice growing more hoarse from the out-loud reading to my wife…as any good novel will often bring one to do. As we tensed ever closer to the moments that would provide the much desired closure to each of the main characters, the novel suddenly stands on the gas pedal. Loose ends from several of the secondary or even tertiary characters are not adequately tied up, and developments to main characters are left inadequately explored. This is most apparent to the Eleanor character, which is a shame as her journey was clearly the most unique. All that aside, there was one plot point that quite frankly, turned the whole novel on it’s ear, at least for the reading in my household. Nearing what felt would be a third act twist, we were unexpectedly presented with the issue of abortion. Again, staying as spoiler free as possible, one or more of the main characters of the novel are confronted with this very human yet unnerving topic. Look, ok….the issue of abortion is important, it’s a real issue with real considerations and no one is beneath writing on this topic. It also doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on, especially when it comes to fictional characters. Whether the thinking is pro-choice or pro-life, so long as the issue is presented with some level of respect, it is 100% acceptable to include…and this author’s presentation at a macro level is indeed adequate. My personal issue here, pairs with the high speed wrap-up of the story. The novel reaching it’s conclusion so quickly, taking off from a seemingly arbitrary point, makes this hyper emotional situation feel rushed, and it’s eventual decision feel inadequately explored. If you’re not careful to read the finer points on your own accord, this topic comes off almost as an “oh by the way” that is tacked-on during the final moments we spend with the characters that we’ve grown with for the previous thirty-odd chapters. I would’ve happily given up a few chapters of the less mature characters fucking around with their x-box if it meant a better presentation of what should have been a more thoroughly vetted plot point.
Rating: Now That We’re Adults by Lynn Almengor is an overall fun, nostalgic trip to recounting the highs and lows of adjusting to life after college. This journey was all things witty, insightful, maddening, and even sexy at times. Despite its unfortunately swift closing, the wide range of character experiences will have something for everyone that’s had even the slightest anxiety about becoming an adult and adapting to the real world.