Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset deals with a very difficult subject. Through the thoughts and memories of Mary Rose, a middle-aged mother of two and writer of teen fantasy novels, MacDonald explores the ongoing effects of abuse suffered as a child.
This is a quiet, complex, and keenly observant novel that draws the reader into Mary Rose’s struggle to come to terms with her past so that she might move beyond it.
By all outward appearances, Mary Rose is living a happy and successful life. She is the author of two very popular novels for teens. She has a wife, a young daughter and son, a dog, and a nice home. But Mary Rose’s wife is out of town working and Mary Rose is alone all day with her headstrong two-year-old. She is finding it harder and harder to stay calm and to keep her anger in check. As she becomes increasingly frightened that she might lose control with her daughter as her mother lost control with her, old memories surface and Mary Rose starts to question her relationship with her parents and her understanding of her own past.
Very little happens in Mary Rose’s life over the course of the novel. In Adult Onset, the action is internal. The novel has a collage-like structure that emphasizes the interconnectedness that is at the heart of the story: the current moment shaped by those that came before; one person’s reality informed by the experiences of previous generations. MacDonald builds the story layer by layer – in domestic moments shared by Mary Rose and her children, in Mary Rose’s childhood memories, and in glimpses of Mary Rose’s mother’s struggle with depression. This is a powerfully written novel that delves into the complexities of family relationships and inherited cycles of abuse.
Readers who liked Adult Onset may also enjoy All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Like Adult Onset, All My Puny Sorrows is an introspective, emotionally compelling novel that deals with very difficult family issues. Readers who’d like to approach the subject matter covered in Adult Onset from a nonfiction perspective may want to try Jeannette Walls’s memoir, The Glass Castle.