Updated Post: Adam by Ariel Schrag

A few weeks ago I read and posted about Ariel Schrag’s Adam, one of the contenders in this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books. The book made me distinctly uncomfortable. Most of the characters were unlikeable, so it wasn’t necessarily pleasant to spend time with them. Adam is a 17yo horny boy, not especially sensitive or insightful. Unlikeable characters isn’t a deal-breaker for me, in fact it’s normally a pet peeve, because unlikeable characters can make for great books. But Adam, both the book and the character, are almost goad the reader into judgment, by being unkind in ways that are resolutely un-PC. Adam and his sister call each other ‘retards.’ One Jewish character complains about the Hasidic landlord in racist terms. Many of the members of the GLBT community (set in 2006 in the book) are shown as small minded, or mean, or ignorant, or ugly, or smelly. The last straw for me was when Adam, who had been “passing” as trans in order to date a girl who said she didn’t like cis-gendered men, basically gets away with his lie consequence free.

The book bugged me, and as I sometimes do with a book I especially don’t like, I went looking for reviews and interviews with the author, to better understand both the book and my reaction to it. And, as sometimes happened, what I learned changed how I felt about the book. Part of what bugged me about the book was how resolutely un-PC these characters were, which was even more shocking because, aside from Adam, they were GLBT and part of an already-marginalized group.

Turns, out, that was Schrag’s intent. She wanted to show the GLBT community, warts and all, pulling back the curtain on them to show that, hey, they’re just like everybody else: dumb silly jerks some of the time. Not all of the time. Some of people’s criticism of the book centers on the unlikeable, badly behaving characters. Yet there is one character that behaves consistently well throughout, and all the other characters may act badly a lot of the time, but they also behave well sometimes.

After reading the interviews and further consideration, I like Adam the book (not the character) a lot. It was funny, and sometimes brutally honest, and featured a whole cast of GLBT characters and just one straight white guy, and there just aren’t enough books with that kind of diversity out there.

It still nags me that Adam’s story arc was something of a white-male fantasy. Schrag notes in one of the interviews that some readers felt he should have been “punished” for his lie. While it is uncomfortable, I think the discomfort is part of what is unique and interesting about the novel, and once I sat with my weird feelings about the book and examined them, I appreciated the book more in retrospect.

Here, the interviews I read:



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