Review: The Adults – Caroline Hulse

Review: The Adults – Caroline HulseThe Adults
by Caroline Hulse
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: November 27, 2018
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A couple, now separated. Their daughter. Their new partners. One epic Christmas vacation. What could go wrong?

This razor-sharp novel puts a darkly comic twist on seasonal favorites like Love Actually and The Holiday.

Meet The Adults.

Claire and Matt are no longer together but decide that it would be best for their daughter, Scarlett, to have a “normal” family Christmas. They can’t agree on whose idea it was to go to the Happy Forest holiday park, or who said they should bring their new partners. But someone did—and it’s too late to pull the plug. Claire brings her new boyfriend, Patrick (never Pat), a seemingly sensible, eligible from a distance Ironman in Waiting. Matt brings the new love of his life, Alex, funny, smart, and extremely patient. Scarlett, who is seven, brings her imaginary friend Posey. He’s a giant rabbit. Together the five (or six?) of them grit their teeth over Forced Fun Activities, drink a little too much after Scarlett’s bedtime, overshare classified secrets about their pasts . . . and before you know it, their holiday is a powder keg that ends where this novel begins—with a tearful, frightened call to the police.

What happened? They said they’d all be adults about this. . . .

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4 stars icon contemporary icon holiday m/f

Is there anything more classic than a tale of family dysfunction during the holidays?  National Lampoon’s Family Christmas is one of my favorite holiday films, so it’s no wonder I loved this book, as it’s reminiscent of a British version of it.  Well, a version where a divorced couple, their 7-year-old (and her imaginary bunny friend), and their respective new partners all decide to rent a lodge at a holiday park over Christmas.  After all, they owe it to their daughter to be one big happy family, right?  And honestly, what could go wrong?

“Just be normal. Like all of this—creaky toilets, singing Christmas trees, invisible rabbits, five-day weekends, bald men in too short shorts walking round aggressively at 9 A.M.—is normal.”

The book starts out with a bang – literally – with the transcript of an emergency call saying that someone’s been shot with an arrow.  The book is divided into sections for each day of the five day “weekend,” interspersed with ad copy for the holiday park and more of the police reports.  I think this framing worked very well, as the pacing is a bit slower in the beginning, then takes on steam as the holiday shine starts to wear off.  It’s told from the POVs of the new partners – Matt’s girlfriend, Alex, and Claire’s boyfriend, Patrick – as well as their seven-year-old daughter, Scarlett.  I pretty much immediately disliked Matt and Patrick within the first chapter.  While we don’t get his POV, it’s obvious that he’s a manchild, a 38-year-old who just bought a skateboard, who prefers to ignore problems rather than dealing with them, like springing the holiday trip on Alex one month beforehand.  Patrick is desperately insecure, and well aware that Claire is “punching over his weight.”  This comes out in displays of overcompetitveness and an obsession with participating in an Ironman competition.  Claire, meanwhile, is a paragon of saintly perfection, meticulously planning the holiday down to the hour and happily cooking all the meals.  Alex was, by far, the character I empathized with most.  As a scientist, she’s very methodical and logical, down to lecturing about which properties are the best investments, mathematically, during a family game of Monopoly.  She feels completely out of her element dealing with Scarlett, as she’s never been a parent and has never particularly wanted to be one.  I also thought Scarlett’s POV was well done.  While there were times I thought she (or Posey) were a bit too mature for a seven year old, for the most part I think Ms. Hulse had a deft touch for the emotions of a child struggling with her parents’ divorce.

“You sound proud. You know that’s the wrong way up, right?”
“I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Why everyone has to say they are busy all the time. I mean, what are they atoning for?”
And there it was: one of the things Alex most adored about Matt. A comment that made her wonder if he was the only person who had life in perspective, all along.

I found this book hilarious, but it’s the very British type of dry, understated humor.  All these different personalities and histories together naturally lead to friction as everyone’s forced to live in each other’s pocket – for Scarlett’s sake, of course.  As the holiday progresses, it leads to a re-examination of why Claire and Matt broke up, and shines a flashlight on the cracks in their current relationships, in alternately hilarious, cringeworthy, or insightful ways.  Because, of course, there are lies, omissions, and misunderstandings right from the beginning, and each one that’s uncovered is one step closing to understanding how we get from the idyllic happy family Christmas vacation to an emergency call on Christmas Eve.

Overall, I had a wonderful time reading this book, and I’ve already recommended it to several friends.  This looks like it’s the author’s debut novel, and I’ll definitely be looking out for her next book!

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