Robin Antalek: The Grown Ups (a novel)

March 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

6145695 Grown Ups978-0-06-230247-2 – William Morrow – 384 pages –  trade paperback- $14.99 (ebook editions available at lower prices)

I genuinely enjoyed this evocative coming-of-age novel.  I thought it captured the current generation of almost-thirty somethings really beautifully.  It’s well written and well structured and very sympathetic on a number of levels for a wide range of readers.

The book starts with the central character in this faceted story, Sam Turner, in the summer he is fifteen, the crucial and in some ways defining moment in his life. Just as he connects with Suzie Epstein, the gorgeous girl next door, his mother abandons his family without warning or explanation. While his older, hard working brother Michael, who is a freshman in college and their attorney father both appear to accept her absence as a matter of course, Sam cannot. He is confused, and more deeply hurt by his mother’s departure and struggles to understand how she could simply disappear and leave her family behind.  And at the same time, Suzie’s family suddenly moves away as well. This sense of loss is something he will carry with him throughout the rest of the story.

From this opening, the rest of the book covers the years as Sam and his friends (and brother) grow into adulthood. As one might expect, life is complicated, shit happens, good and bad, and life goes on. Author Antalek navigates this territory brilliantly, telling the stories of the key characters in alternating voices.

Suzie has her own family issues, and remains separated from her old friends for many years. Then a chance meeting with Michael reunites her with Sam and her former best friend Bella, whose first love was Sam. The Grown Ups explores the complicated process of growing up in the modern world. And through it all, we come to understand and appreciate the way her characters handle what it means for them to take on the mantle of adulthood. For most of us, it seems this is how growing up really works, accidents mixed with intentions to create being, meaning, and love. This book is a rewarding read, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. And I felt the same way talking to author Antalek about her book. We had a very fun time talking together about the writing of this book, her characters and life in general.

Robin Antalek is also the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) which was chosen as a Target Breakout Book. Her non-fiction work has been published at The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown and was been featured in several collections, including The Beautiful Anthology, Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema, and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-2013. Her short fiction has appeared in 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. Robin has received three honorable mentions in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters and New Fiction Writer’s contests as well as an honorable mention for the Tobias Wolf Fiction Award.__4582134 Antalek

Justin Kramon: Finny (A Novel)

August 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-0812980233 – Random House – Paperback – $15.00 (also available as an ebook at $9.99 or less)

Finny is a wonderful first novel, a coming of age novel (and more), at the center of which is a wonderful character – Delphine “Finny” Short of course.   This is Justin Kramon’s first novel, and he is a very good writer.  He’s been writing and publishing short stories up to now, in literary magazines like Glimmer Train, TriQuarterly and elsewhere, but I think his future lies in the longer form a novel affords.

This novel begins when Finny is 14, and continues on through many more years of her life, with many adventures, and a large cast of really well drawn characters.  Many reviewers have mentioned Dickens as a comparative, and that is apt, as Justin himself makes clear that the Dickensian model was on his mind when he was writing this book.  He does very well with the large story arc, which gives the author enough room to really explore the inner life of his major characters.

Life is complicated, relationships that seem to have promise fall apart, and sometimes we have to deal with surprises in the way things actually work out.  As Finny says herself about life, it is “hilariously funny and devastatingly sad. And only if you saw both things could you ever have a realistic idea of the subject.’’  It’s hard not to agree with the author and his character on this point, especially after spending time with Finny and her life story.

So even though there’s much in Finny’s life that is difficult, sad or disappointing, in both family relationships, love life and friendships, overall, her character comes through as positive about life and how she has lived it, somewhat idiosyncratically, and with a good bit of humor.  That’s probably true of the author as well, and it’s a compelling journey for the reader.  There’s a lot of richness here, and a thoroughly enjoyable novel it is.

I also enjoyed talking to Justin about his book, its characters, how he came to write this novel, his work as a writer and where he is going in the future.  He’s got a really good sense of himself as a writer,an engaging personality, and a fine command of his craft at this early stage of his career.  I think there’s much more good work to come from this novelist, work I will certainly be looking forward to reading.

I do also want to mention Justin’s website, which is one of the better author or book sites I have seen lately.  There’s alot of fun stuff there, especially fun is the section called “Finny’s World” where the characters in the novel are drawn as imagined by artist David Ostow.  It’s definitely worth a visit.