Emma Straub’s recent novel is an incredibly fascinating piece that engages its audience in a humorous, yet thoughtful narration of the challenges that face typical modern families. This story revolves around the lives of an extended family of eight headed by Astrid Strick. Astrid is a 68-year-old matriarch who lost her husband earlier in life. Straub begins her readers’ journey by placing Astrid in a school bus accident scene which accounts for the life of her long term friend Barbara Baker. Ironically, she does not feel remorseful after Barbara's death. This incident awakens her to the fact that time is a precious resource that is constantly depleting.
At this point, Astrid reminisces her troublesome journey as a mother. She reflects on how her past mistakes, and how they contributed to her family’s present fate, especially, her children’s devastating struggles in adulthood. Her eldest son Elliot is now a family man with a wife Wendy, and their naughty twins Zachary and Aidan. They live in Calpham, where he operates his stagnant real estate business. Astrid’s daughter Porter is a goat cheese vendor, who is having an affair with her married high school boyfriend.
On the other hand, the Stricks’ last born Nick lives with his wife Juliette in Brooklyn. Their daughter Cecilia's friend was recently mixed up in an online pedophile incident. So, they have decided to send her to Astrid to keep her away from the danger. As soon as she reaches Hudson Valley, Cecilia meets a new friend who is considering to change both his gender and name.
Straub’s vivid description of real life issues from the eyes of her characters strongly complements her entertaining narration of dramatic, thoughtful scenarios throughout the novel. As a matter of fact, this piece captivates the audience from the first to the last page. Inasmuch as the carefully designed narrative incites readers to turn page after page, it is not the only attractive aspect of Straub’s work. This piece does not shy away from some of the most controversial topics of the modern age including sexuality, feminism, depression, midlife crisis, pedophilia, cultural diversity, and the meaning of life. Such a broad focus on relevant societal matters enhances the book’s appeal to a diverse readership.
Anyone who enjoys a good story would love to read this book. Not many authors tell sweeter stories than Emma Straub. This hypnotic wordsmith knows how to manipulate human feelings using her sentiments. Her narration transitions its audience across every possible emotional state including laughter, joy, remorse, anxiety, tension, pity, and hope. These emotions are triggered by her vivid description of events from the characters' perspective. Such a skilled approach saves her audience from the relatable despair that is often linked to monotonous books.
Human psychology enthusiasts can also benefit a lot from Straub’s peculiar novel. Such a bold statement is inspired by the humanistic topics she invokes throughout the story. While most of her arguments are made in subtlety, they are geared towards exposing the true nature of interpersonal relationships. For now, it appears fair to highlight some parts where this theme was established.
First, Barbara’s abrupt death allows the protagonist to understand how valuable it is to appreciate the close people in her life. This knowledge gives her the courage to open up about her secret homosexual relationship with her ‘human sunshine’ Birdie Gonzales. Porter’s relationship with her married high school sweetheart presents a classic of scenario of 'betrayal' in marriage. Cecilia’s middle school friend August’s decision to transition to Robin highlights the relationship between sexuality and identity. When viewed from this lens, it is apparent that this book is useful in showing the critical psychological issues that affect humanity.
Since people desire to live successfully, it does not appear too far-fetched to claim that this book appeals to adults regardless of their ages. The author’s intentional focus on family matters demonstrates her need to engage the society in a discussion on the opportunities and challenges that often face families as they pursue unity and progress.
In some way, the absence of a father figure in the Stricks’ family challenges the chauvinistic nature of patriarchy. Also, Astrid’s failures as a mother prove the need for gender balance in family leadership. It is fair to confidently claim that Straub’s piece is a ‘MUST READ.’
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