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  • Intriguing reimagining of Ethan Frome!

    The Smash-Up is a loose modernization of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton--a novella that ignited my love of reading literature when I was in high school. It may seem strange that such a sad, stark, and lonely book would be the story that would pique a teenager’s interest, but I became intrigued by Wharton’s writing, the very adult-like themes, and the morally grey characters. And all that snow! While The Smash-Up lacks the snow, the author still succeeds in keeping Wharton’s bleak tone and questionable characters. I first read Ali Benjamin years ago when I was approved for an ARC of her middle grade book, The Thing About Jellyfish. And I was so impressed with it. It didn’t read like a middle grade book at all. The writing was beautiful and the characters were fleshed out. While that’s about the only similarities I can find between these two books—even though it has been years since I read Jellyfish—I was once again impressed with the depth and clarity the author brought to the story. The Smash-Up will probably be a divisive book. Most of the characters may be considered unlikeable, but for me that was the point. Much like Ethan Frome. But Benjamin has brought these characters into the turbulent present. Ethan is a bit aimless, relying on his past accomplishments, lacking much desire to create something new, spending most of his time focused on his exuberant daughter diagnosed with ADHD. Zo, his wife, a filmmaker who hasn’t created anything new herself, is devoting all her time and energy to her friends and their efforts to support the #metoo movement. And Maddy is the young woman they have invited into their home to help with their daughter. Ethan feels pulled toward Maddy’s carefree ways, missing the closeness he used to have with Zo who no longer makes time for him. When their daughter’s private school is ready to push her out, Zo is gearing up for a protest rally, and Ethan’s past comes back to haunt him, things come to a boiling point for this family. Even though it’s not a happy novel, I did enjoy this one. There’s much to think and debate about. It would make an excellent book club book. My past college student self would have enjoyed researching and writing an essay comparing The Smash-Up with its original inspiration. I hope readers give this one a chance and don’t immediately close themselves off to it. It’s a reminder that we’re all human. And while it’s easy to think we should avoid those who think and believe differently than we do, it’s really not the healthy thing to do. It only perpetuates the circle of ignorance and apathy toward each other. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an advanced reader's copy.

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