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The Smash-Up  By  cover art

The Smash-Up

By: Ali Benjamin
Narrated by: MacLeod Andrews,Rebecca Lowman,Dion Graham,Shayna Small
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Publisher's Summary

Smart, sublime, and wickedly clever, The Smash-Up captures - then transcends - our current polarized moment

“An exhilarating ride ... hilarious ... a modern and energetic story about a marriage on the skids.” (The New York Times)

Ethan has always been one of the good guys, and for years, nobody has appreciated this fact more than his wife, Zo. Until now. Jolted into activism by the 2016 election, Zo’s transformed their home into the headquarters for the local resistance, turning their comfortable decades-long marriage inside-out.

Meanwhile, their boisterous daughter, Alex, grows wilder by the day. Ethan’s former business partner needs help saving the media company they’d co-founded. Financial disaster looms. Enter a breezy, blue-haired millennial making her way through the gig economy. Suddenly Ethan faces a choice unlike any he’s ever had to make.

Unfolding over fivet urbulent days in 2018, The Smash-Up wrestles shrewdly with some of the biggest questions of our time: What, exactly, does it mean to be a good guy? What will it take for men to break the “bro code”? How does the world respond when a woman demands more?  Can we ever understand another's experiences...and what are the consequences of failing to try? Moving, funny, and cathartic, this portrait of a marriage - and a nation - under strain is, ultimately, a magic trick of empathy, one that will make you laugh and squirm until its final, breathless words.

©2021 Ali Benjamin (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“An exhilarating ride...hilarious...there are no heroes here; I got whiplash trying to figure out who I trusted and what I was rooting for, and the sensation was mesmerizing. Benjamin is like an overly chatty but skilled magician...a modern and energetic story about a marriage on the skids.” (The New York Times)

“Borrow names and plot elements from Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Satirize progressive parenting and education à la Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Then light it all up with the feminist fire ignited by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings - and what do you get? A fun, timely novel that’s unexpectedly full of hope.” (People)

“It is not the transposition of that well-trod narrative and its character types that compels; it is the contrast sharpened in the act.... Benjamin doesn’t remake Ethan Frome so much as she contends with it. The Smash-Up is an homage and a critique.... An astute commentary on the differences between Wharton’s time and ours.” (Los Angeles Times)

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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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • LB
  • 03-05-21

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.

1 person found this helpful

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Love this author

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