"THE ADULTS." By Alison Espach. Simon and Schuster. $25.
Alison Espach's debut, "The Adults," is the story of a dysfunctional family of three, narrated by the observant only child, Emily Vidal.
Espach, who earned her master's degree at Washington University, shows Emily as a smart and sassy narrator as she watches her parents' marriage disintegrate, beginning with a detailed depiction of her father's 50th birthday party.
It seems Emily's dad is having an affair with the neighbor, who is also the mother of Emily's best friend and first crush. What's worse is when Emily witnesses the neighbor's husband hang himself. Yet Espach shows great restraint as she writes about the suicide and its aftermath, sparing any gory details and instead focusing on the emotional wreckage it causes in Emily, the victim's family, and the dynamics between Emily's mother and the newly widowed neighbor.
As Emily's father moves to Prague and her mother becomes more and more self-involved, Espach shows us an Emily who is in search of love and attention and finds it in some most inappropriate ways.
She winds up as a young adult in Europe, trying to reconnect with her father and his young daughter and girlfriend. She learns about a lie that has affected her entire family, and she rekindles the unsuitable romance from her high school years.
Espach is a gifted writer, making Emily brave, bold and timid all at once. Even with some uneven plot developments, readers will stick it out because of sheer curiosity over Emily's eventual fate.