Review: Narrative of 'Adult Onset' feels intensely personal

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Posted: Apr 15, 2015 2:16 PM
Review: Narrative of 'Adult Onset' feels intensely personal

"Adult Onset" (Tin House Books), by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Ann-Marie MacDonald's latest novel, "Adult Onset," tracks a week in the life of Mary Rose MacKinnon.

A famous author of YA novels, Mary Rose is stalled on starting the last book of a popular trilogy and taking care of her two young children while her partner, who is focusing on her career, is directing a play out of town.

To that end, it's the most accurate description of solo parenting I've ever read, not so much juggling a number of tasks from the seemingly simple (answering one email) to crucial (keeping scissors away from a toddler) as trying to keep from drowning under them. MacDonald nails both the hilarity and the crippling anxiety of day-to-day life, revealing they're not necessarily mutually exclusive, as well as the internal struggle between needing help and believing one should be capable of handling all this without it.

The novel starts with an email from Mary Rose's father, which triggers the memory of a childhood bone injury. As her week progresses, Mary Rose comes to wonder how reliable her memories are, and her fear about what's behind this memory continues to affect her relationships with her parents, siblings and children.

The narrative feels intensely personal, and in fact MacDonald drew from her own experiences in writing "Adult Onset." Her writing is dizzying and brilliant and often disorienting, which beautifully supports the novel's themes, perfectly capturing how it feels to be unmoored and seemingly alone. Equally moving are flashback passages centering on Mary Rose's mother, herself suffering through postpartum depression.

Less effective are excerpts from Mary Rose's YA novels — they feel more like interruptions but do serve to bridge the transition between chapters and to break some of the rising tensions in the main story. Both the external and internal pressures build slowly yet steadily for Mary Rose, and the novel wades into very dark territory, but ultimately bears a message of light and hope, remembrance and forgiveness.