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Publisher's Summary

A marriage spirals out of control when the issues of our day - cultural, political, and social - become intensely personal in this fresh, whip-smart novel for listeners and readers of Meg Wolitzer and Fleishman Is in Trouble

“A fun, timely novel that’s unexpectedly full of hope.” (People)

It’s September 2018. In Washington, DC, - and in cities and towns across America - women have taken to the streets to protest a Supreme Court nominee. And in Starkfield, Massachusetts - a sleepy rural town where nothing much ever happens - Ethan Frome’s otherwise quiet life has turned upside down.

Ethan’s wife, Zo, is so enraged by the national political scene that she’s transformed their home into a local headquarters for the Resistance. His college roommate and former business partner faces #metoo allegations, sending Ethan into increasingly desperate financial straits. His unruly, headstrong daughter, Alex, grows more challenging by the day.

Enter Maddy Silver - a breezy, blue-haired millennial making her way through the gig economy. Suddenly Ethan and Zo must question everything: their past, their future, their marriage, and what they value most. And all the while, a world-rocking cultural smash-up inches ever closer to home.

Inspired by a classic Edith Wharton novella about a strained marriage in a small town, The Smash-Up is at once an intimate, moving portrait of a family in distress, a vivid examination of our roiling national rancor, and a powerful exploration of how the things we fail to notice can shatter a family, a community, and a nation.

©2021 Ali Benjamin (P)2021 Random House Audio

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • LB
  • 2021-03-05

Felt like watching the news before 2020 election

I thought "Zo" was a caricature of a hysterical American woman with too much time on her hands, and "Ethan" was given all the grace by this author. He was the more deeply damaged person of the two and yet he got no repercussions for some really crappy behavior. I felt myself getting anxious all over again (as if watching the news before the recent change in leadership in DC) by the political undercurrents this author portrayed. I bought this book because of a great interview on NPR with the author but I was very disappointed.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Carol Stein-Payne
  • 2021-04-07

Love this author

I read everything Ali Benjamin writes. Her work for young adults is wonderful. Go, Ali!

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Barbara S
  • 2021-03-19

what happened????

So many emotions are drummed up in “The Smash-Up” by Ali Benjamin. Benjamin creates a story about a marriage that is on the ebb of a crisis. Ethan Frome (yes that’s his name) is a man in midlife who is living off his rapidly dwindling royalties from a media start-up. He is trying to figure out the next chapter of his life; what to do for work. His wife, Zenobia (Zo) is a has-been documentary film maker who is distracted by the “me-too” movement. This is the year 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Confirmation hearings is high drama after the Trump administration created a feminist backlash. Zo and her feminist friends form a resistance movement (All Them Witches) and hold meetings in Zo and Ethan’s home.

But the story really begins with “what happened?” We learn something bad happened, and we aren’t sure what it was, not how it started. But we know it has a political vibe. It begins with social unrest with a changing society and women not allowing men to subjugate them, and definitely with women being tired of sexual harassment.

So the story begins on a Tuesday before the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The resistance group is meeting at the Frome family home. Ethan and Zo have a hilarious and zany daughter, Alex, who is struggling in her 6th grade class at a progressive and liberal private school. Alex has ADHD, and no one has written a better characterization of a typical ADHD child as Benjamin. She writes Alex as annoyingly hyper, yet interesting and funny (if you can read about her and not LIVE with her). Benjamin shows how ADHD children possess a sweet and smart side, which is hard to notice when the child is talking non-stop, 24/7, in rapid staccato. Yet, reading what she says is hilarious. Her mind jumps faster than Mexican jumping beans.

To help with Alex, the Fromes hire a 26 year old woman to pick up the child rearing slack that is required when one has a super hyper child.

The story perfectly reflects our culture. Ethan’s former business partner is sketchy, and Ethan must come to terms with that. Zo is indignant, angry, and frustrated, to the point of distraction with our cultural gender issues. Ethan is worried about money and supporting his family while coming to terms with his former business partner. Poor Alex is treated horribly at her private school, and she’s so innocent she doesn’t even see it. Oh, and that school! Benjamin must have had some insider info on people who send their children to private school. It is so funny. There’s a bit surrounding “the emotion board” that is laugh out loud funny. In fact, more than half the novel left me giggling and snorting laughing. It’s all so real.

Benjamin is able to show both sides of highly charged issues, and she does it with a dollop of humor (some dollops are bigger than others). But she also shows the heart-wrenching sides. The adult characters are portrayed warts and all. The character Alex, hopefully, will open eyes to the beauty of those ADHD children. Nonetheless, this is a story that shows how deeply fractured our society has become. Benjamin needed the humor to keep the reader on board. Otherwise, this story is a dark tragedy.

The ending was a total surprise to me. It was a plot twist I didn’t see coming and had me shaken.

The only complaint I had was with a strange illicit mushroom trip that I thought was distracting and not really necessary. Other than that, I feel that this is a novel that illuminates our culture in crisis.

I listened to the audio and enjoyed the narrators.