“The Adults” by Caroline Hulse centers around a Christmas vacation that no one will ever forget. A joyful sign welcomed guests to “The Happy Forest Holiday Park! Where relaxation is a force of nature.” The plan was for a nice quiet holiday vacation with extended family, all reasonable adults. What could possibly go wrong? Readers find out quickly that a lot can go wrong when the novel opens with the transcript of a call to emergency services.
Operator: “Emergency, which service?
Woman: We need an ambulance at the Happy Forest Holiday Park…
We need an ambulance.He’s been shot. It was an accident.”
This is not just any ordinary Christmas vacation; it is a holiday with one young child Scarlett Cutler, her now divorced parents Matt Cutler and Claire Petersen, their new partners Patrick Asher and Alex Mount, and Scarlett’s imaginary friend, Posey, the rabbit. Why would this group ever think they could spend a holiday together without tension and trauma? From very beginning, anticipation and dread hangs on every page.
The chapters are written from alternating points of view to guide readers through events and to help shed light on how all these sensible adults got to that prologue. They all wanted Scarlett to have a memorable Christmas vacation, and in that, they certainly were successful. Their relationships with each other were certainly memorable as well, but those times were filled with insecurity, lies, and manipulation rather than holiday cheer.
Fundamental inconsistencies, prevailing insecurities, mounting tension, and underlying conflict indicate the thunderstorm of events that are on the way. Even when there seems to be some semblance of civility among these adults, readers are reminded of the “incident” by chapters with transcripts of interviews by park employees and other quests who observed the growing strain and the aftermath of the “event.”
“The Adults” works because of the diverse and realistic characters; readers get to know them very well. They are all likeable, familiar, and sympathetic despite their disturbed routines and unnecessary drama. In fact, every reader knows of someone like these people among their own families and acquaintances. However, behind all that familiar normal behavior, readers know there is still the shooting. Readers frantically turn pages because although “the event” has occurred, the details and specific participants are only disclosed a little piece at a time throughout the narrative.
“The Adults” is compelling and entertaining book. I finished it shaking my head and asking, “How could people think this would be an appropriate vacation?” I of course knew the answer because I knew all these characters. I received a copy of “The Adults” from Caroline Hulse, Random House Publishing Group, and NetGalley. This is certainly not a run-of-the-mill “Christmas Book,” and I found it a painfully wonderful book. It reminds me that my own holiday vacations are not as bad as I thought.