Like many teenagers, Emily Vidal believes her life sucks. That Emily is conscious of her own foibles gives this coming-of-age debut novel a measure of depth. And then there are Emily's sardonic observations of the wealthy denizens of suburban Connecticut.
The book opens with 14-year-old Emily at her father's 50th birthday party. The usual teenage snarkiness is checked when she discovers her father in a passionate embrace with Mrs. Resnick, the next-door neighbor. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Resnick commits suicide, a hanging Emily observes but cannot prevent. The situation grows more confusing when Mrs. Resnick turns up pregnant. Emily's parents divorce, her father follows his work to Prague and Emily is left with her detached mother and an overweening conception of her own maturity. Before she understands the sharp edges of passion, Emily finds herself, seduced and seducer, in a love affair with Mr. Basketball, her teacher, a dalliance that will continue intermittently over a decade. Emily conquers college, about which little is said, and then moves to Prague for graduate work in interior design. There she lives with her father, meets again with her lover and connects with her half sister. Next it's Brooklyn, where Emily finds a new love and begins her career, only to be confronted again by a guilt-ridden Mr. Basketball, now a widowed lawyer. The story weaves toward its conclusion when Emily's father returns to Connecticut ill with lung cancer. Espach's writing is literary and introspective, sometimes indulging in irony circling upon irony, but it’s securely grounded in a sense of place. Even when the story moves to Prague, settings resonate with authenticity. With rare exceptions, the cast of characters, from fellow students to expats in Prague to the post-yuppies of Connecticut, are well-studied.
Wry rather than out-loud funny, laced with melancholy and angst, this book is an enviable first effort.