Book Review: The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin

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This was my book rec for Geminis for the month of August . To view the rest of my New Release Book Recs for August (based on your sun sign) scroll to the bottom!


Ethan and his wife Zo have moved from New York City to the town of Starkfield, Massachusetts where they now live with their enigmatically spirited and neurodiverse daughter, Alex. In the wake of a Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, and a series of other high profile sexual assault cases, Zo and Ethan Frome’s lives are upended by their own respective associations with the #MeToo movement. As storylines converge, and their once uncomplicated life spirals more and more off the rails, only one thing is certain – the road they’re on is leading to one hell of a “Smash-Up.”

Based on Edith Wharton’s short story, Ethan Frome, in which a visitor to the town of Starkfield, Massachusetts describes the titled character’s daily life as well as his being somewhat of a “fixture” of the town, The Smash Up seeks to modernize and build off its predecessor by imagining Ethan as actually being the narrator in his story, while- one could argue – not actually being the main character anymore.

“What exactly is the point of a tiny protest in the middle of nowhere seen by almost no one? The point is that the person who does see might need exactly this, exactly now. The point is her individual belief can become part of a collective one. The point is this may or may not change the world but it will almost certainly change her.

– Zo Frome, The Smash-Up

🍦🍦🍦 (Three stars as rated in dirty leprechaun flavored ice cream from Cone Heads with extra rainbow sprinkles on top.)

There are layers to this book. It should be stated up front, though, that this is a book that really feels like it was written for white people. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there are certainly concepts – particularly concerning racism – that white people need to hear more than POC do (for obvious reason). But before I get into all that I want to visit the two points that I felt Ali Benjamin totally nailed with this story:

The first is the absolutely atrocious way that even the most progressive and liberally minded people treat neurodiversity and disability; our systems are set up to punish anyone that is different (like Alex) and the roadblocks and downright cruelty she faces because of that are expertly illustrated in The Smash Up.

The second point is that white people pay witness to a lot of problematic behavior by other white people without mustering the strength to call it out. The preference for “maintaining civility and comfortability” with other white people above all else —even in the presence of inflammatory or potentially inciting behavior— is something that, it would seem, is finally being confronted in certain white circles. Especially since it turns out that sometimes silence can lead to a mob of white people storming the Capitol building. 👀

The Smash-Up could be simply summarized as *SPOILER ALERT* a story about white people who are passive to bad behavior by other white people for a so long that the problematic person they all knew was problematic finally goes off the rails and kills someone for the exactly the reason he always said he would. Unfortunately, there is never really an expressed sense of accountability about this from the witnessing characters. And I can’t help but think that was a real opportunity missed.

It takes a lot of contextual understanding to keep us from being the villain in someone else’s story. And without open mindedness concerning the trauma of others, we are all essentially an interruption away from doing something horrendous. I really wish this concept as well had been explored more deeply. In Zo’s anger she conflates her experience with the police to that of a woman that was sexually assaulted by a supreme court nominee— an act that ends up carrying the potential to actually damage the integrity of other survivors. For his part, and in his willful ignorance about his friend and business partner’s true character, Ethan bears witness to numerous instances of sexually predatory behavior, some of which are implied to even have been physically assaulting. There is no real reckoning for this by either Ethan or Zo. In fact, there never seem to be any real consequences for anyone except Maddie; the one character who was actually a victim in the thing that she was ultimately punished for! If Ali Benjamin’s purpose with these respective arcs was to prove that financially stable white American’s can basically get away with whatever they want, then give this book an award. Around every renowned predator are all the witnesses – like Ethan – that could have spoken up at any point but either didn’t notice anything was wrong or just didn’t care to get involved. And I can’t say which option is worse.

I think the biggest tragedy about this story by far, however, was all that remained completely unsaid. For example, Zo’s rage at not being able to protect Alex from the predators of the world is understandable. Could that not have been related to what every Black mother experiences in knowing how likely it is that their child will be the victim of a hate crime or sanctioned police violence? While there are moments of profound realization by all characters in The Smash-Up, there is a clear veil of white feminism in the way of true intersectionality. At the end of the day, and despite my trying to see the best in it from page one, this is a book is about middle class white people arriving too late to the outrage that more marginalized communities have been describing for generations.

“The world isn’t post-narrative, it isn’t post-happy ending. They just haven’t yet written the next part of their story.

– Ethan Frome, The Smash-Up
Audiobook review for The Smash-Up

The narration of this story is absolutely a delight to listen to. There are technically three narrators, though MacLeod Andrews tells the vast majority of the story. His ability to bring a narrative to life is is truly outstanding.

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book at a glance

✂️ Retelling of a Classic
💥 Dramatic Ending
🌳 Family Focused
🥀 Flawed Characters

✨ Rep in this book: Neurodiverse supporting character

✨ Content warnings for this book: bullying, sexual violence, sexual assault, cursing, drug use, depression, suicide, death, trauma, medical stuff, car accident

“What happened is people were hurting. What happened is people were afraid. What happened is anger is stronger than fear and so, for that matter, is hate. But it is easier to know what you want to burn down than it is to imagine what you might grow in its place.”

Zo Frome, The Smash-Up
Florida by Lauren Groff

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The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

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The Overstory by Richard Powers

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Image Description: A flat lay featuring the audio book version of The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin as seen on an iPhone. There is a white hand reaching into the frame and gripping the phone before a light pink background. To the top left of the phone, emphatic black lines extend away and to the right is a question mark and an exclamation point.
about the author

Ali Benjamin

(The following was copied from the author’s personal website) My books include  THE SMASH-UP (forthcoming, Random House, 2021), which is my first adult novel, I also wrote THE NEXT GREAT PAULIE FINK (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019), THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2015. I’ve also co-written memoirs for and with others. I won some awards for my books and have had the great fortune to reach people all over the world with my words.

I live in Massachusetts. I’m ridiculously forgetful. I love the first hit of coffee in the morning. I read multiple books simultaneously. I’m a total dog person; perhaps I’d be a cat person, too, if I weren’t so allergic. I’ve got two rescue pups: an old lady Australian shepherd name Mollie, and an all-American mutt named Charlie. I’ve also got some humans in my life, whom I adore. I choose kindness over niceness, truth over disinformation, and democracy over whatever the heck we’ve had.

about the narrator

MacLeod Andrews

MacLeod Andrews is a multiple award-winning audiobook narrator. He has starred in a number of independent short and feature films and is a member of the Rising Phoenix Repertory Company in NYC. Andrews has narrated many audiobooks, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Testimony, and Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (Penguin Random House)

Other books narrated by MacLeod Andrews: The Feather Thief, One of Us is Lying, Virgil Wander, The Lost Night, The Fates Divide, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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Hope your November is wrapping up nicely, everone!



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Published by Sarah

My name is Sarah and I can't imagine my life without books. Actually, I can and it's terrible. I'm also into climbing, video games and bothering the nearest cat.

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