Life for Ethan and Zo used to be simple. Ethan co-founded a lucrative media start-up, and Zo was well on her way to becoming a successful filmmaker. Then they moved to a rural community for a little more tranquility – or so they thought.
When newfound political activism transforms Zo into a barely recognisable ball of outrage and #MeToo allegations rock his old firm, Ethan finds himself a misfit in his own life. Enter a millennial houseguest who is young, fun and not at all concerned with the real world, and Ethan is abruptly forced to question everything: his past, his future, his marriage, and what he values most.
Thank you so much to Ana at Riverrun Books for sending me this finished hardback copy of The Smash-Up. This book chucks you straight in at the deep end and truthfully it takes a while to get orientated. Zo and Ethan left Brooklyn and moved to Starkfield, unable to remember the reasons why 16 years on, life feels small in this dull town and they feel stuck. Alex their 11 year old daughter suffers with ADHD and the expensive private school, which promised to meet her needs after the local state school couldn’t, is failing and there is a subtle move among other parents to get Alex out, she is disruptive, demanding, doesn’t get on with the other children… Ethan gets an income from his previous business but his ex business partner has been hit with a string of allegations and dubiously wants Ethan’s help. And Zo, well her film work isn’t going to plan, devastated by the recent election result she is becoming increasingly preoccupied with a local activist group fighting for women and equality.
Acerbically written this book is told from Ethan’s point of view, as he largely observes his world, a man who things happen to rather than him making them happen I think. He sees himself as a ‘good guy’ although his tendency to inaction doesn’t always necessarily support this image. Zo on the otherhand is devastated by the outcome of the election and this story is told as testimonies are being made in relation to an allegation of sexual assault by a supreme court nominee. Names or details are not given about this or the election result. But Zo is furious, for the treatment of women, about inequality and about entitlement and she is motivated to act, while Ethan observes, unsure and inactive but feeling hard done by. As parents to Alex they both seem preoccupied and not prioritising their child although both clearly love her and want the best for her. Maddy, a family friend staying at the home with a loose arrangement to contribute to childcare is another distraction, an interesting character who enjoys a flirtatous relationship with Ethan leading him to question his marriage and his views about fidelity.
There is so much packed into this character driven novel and it is fantastic. I read it as part of a readalong organised by the publisher which was terrific because there were so many angles, we discussed Ethan – is he ok, is his inertia fine or does he have a responsibility to take a stand? In his voice it was easy to go along with his beliefs and see Zo as a bad mum and things like this generated interesting discussion and revealed the nuanced layers in the story.
An exciting contemporary work of fiction which feels so timely right now. I was very impressed with this book and recommend it very highly.
About the Author
Ali Benjamin is the author of the young adult novel The Thing about Jellyfish, an international bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. The Next Great Paulie Fink was named a top children’s book of the year by Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, the New York Public Library and the Los Angeles Public Library. Her work has been published in more than twenty-five languages in more than thirty countries. Originally from the New York City area, she now lives in Massachusetts. This is her first adult novel.