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A Big, Complicated Family — And Their Mistakes — In 'All Adults Here'

Author and bookstore owner Emma Straub's new novel reminds us how lives can change in an instant — not that we may need that reminder too much right now.

All Adults Here is a modern family saga of three generations thrown together, whether they like it or not — and a lot of the time, they don't. It begins with a bang, when Astrid Strick sees a lifelong friend she'd never much liked get hit and killed by an empty, speeding school bus. And at the age of 68 she realizes — as she tells her children — that "there are always more school buses."

"Really what it does is it makes Astrid, who's the main character of the book, realize that there are a lot of things that she wishes she'd done differently as a parent," Straub says. "And the book is really about how the choices we make and the mistakes we make stay with us for decades, if not forever ... It's a big, complicated family book. So it's equal opportunity for choices and mistakes. They're all doing things their family members would rather they do differently."

Interview Highlights

On being an independent bookstore owner

... the book is really about how the choices we make and the mistakes we make stay with us for decades, if not forever.

You know, somewhat miraculously, business is actually pretty good. And that sense of community is absolutely buoying us right now. I will say that in the last three years, since we've opened the store and I've been writing this book, the thing that I think about the most is that sense of community, because the neighborhood where our bookstore is, and where we live is the neighborhood where I went to school, and my children go to the school that I went to. And so all day long, I see people from all these different periods of my life — my 10th grade poetry teacher, and my friend's parents and a person I made out with in high school. And I you know, I see all these people every day.

And it's been a really interesting sort of psychological experiment on myself, really to think about when they interact with me. Are they interacting with 40-year-old mother of two? Are they interacting with the sullen 16-year-old me, or are they thinking about me as a child? Are they thinking about me and my parents? I think about those different webs a lot. And that's really a lot of what the book is about, is the ways in which we're all really watching each other get older. And the ways in which we either allow — or don't allow — each other to grow or change, and what sort of feelings get all tied up in that.

On family and connection

I mean, the family in this book — they are in and out of each other's lives, and react to each other in the ways that we all do, I think, with our with our families. I mean, I don't I don't know about anyone else, but when my mother comes over to our house, she and my husband immediately start sort of annoying each other and teasing each other. And it's all of those things that you would normally complain about. And my book is full of those things with this family.

Like right now, my husband said to me yesterday, he said, "I just wish your mom could come over and annoy me." I think it's what we're all missing. You know, not the perfect shiny bits, but like, why does my mom just bring me bags of loose batteries? I don't know. I mean, I probably need them?

And that kind of stuff, which I always make fun of her for, but is so loving ... I think that this moment really does bring up all those big feelings about family and about how we relate to the people we love the most, and who we know the best ... You know, it's a funny kind of microscope where we're all under right now.

This story was edited for radio by Samantha Balaban and Melissa Gray and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.