A wayward woman with little executive function tries to wrest back control of her life.
The classic advice to write what you know guides many a debut, often to fine effect. Adelman’s first novel is a tender example of this tenet—in the acknowledgments, she offers a tribute to her sister, “whose brain helped inspire Lucy’s.” And her heroine’s brain, damaged in an early childhood car accident, is a marvel: Lucy describes it as “a pinball machine lit up with pockets of potential.” When we meet her, that potential has lain dormant for a while. Coddled by a well-intentioned dad who leaves her a to-do list every morning that includes showering and dressing, Lucy spends her days drinking coffee and trying not to leave the house. Daily tasks and interactions flummox her, but she finds a safe haven in her sketchbook and passing glimpses of her mother, who died many years earlier. This haven implodes when Lucy’s father has a sudden heart attack: her absent younger brother, Nate (a polished 21-year-old who “didn’t have an awkward phase”), swoops in from college, sets her up in his tiny New York apartment, and kicks off the rest of their story. Plenty of plot follows, and minor characters traipse in and out, but none of that is the reason to read Adelman’s book. Lean in instead for the relationship between brother and sister, for its evolution as Lucy builds the strength and willingness both to take care of herself and to recognize and accept Nate’s shortcomings. The chronicle of this incremental shift is peppered with her drawings of people and animals—all done by the author’s sister—which play no small role in making Lucy’s often hazy perspective feel sharply real.
This labor of love pens a soft-edged portrait of a subject who struggles to grasp complexity.