REVIEW: Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman
When Laura Costello moves to Los Angeles, trying to escape an overprotective family and the haunting memories of a terrible accident, she doesn’t expect to be homeless after a week. (She’s pretty sure she didn’t start that fire — right?) She also doesn’t expect to find herself adopted by a rogue bookseller, installed in a lovely but completely illegal boardinghouse, or challenged to save a losing trivia team from ignominy…but that’s what happens. Add a regretful landlady, a gorgeous housemate and an ex-boyfriend determined to put himself back in the running and you’ll see why Laura isn’t really sure she’s cut out for this adulting thing. Luckily for her, her new friends Nina, Polly and Impossibly Handsome Bob aren’t sure either, but maybe if they put their heads (and hearts) together they’ll be able to make it work.
Dear Ms. Waxman,
Three years ago I fell in love with “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” and was thrilled when I read this blurb. Yay more Nina and Polly. Plus there’s Impossibly Handsome Bob from “The Garden of Small Beginnings.” Who doesn’t want a gorgeous but shy man, who knows a lot about plants, to haul dirt around for them? But who is this new woman, Laura, and where will she fit into the picture?
Laura wanders into the bookstore now co-owned by Liz and Nina. She’s dripping wet (LA does have rainstorms) and has obviously had a shock. Hot tea is the answer and soon Liz, Nina, and Polly have winkled her life story out of her. Newly arrived in LA from NYC for a physical therapy program, Laura’s apartment caught fire and she is basically wearing all she has left. The crew swing into action and before you know it, Laura has taken the spare bedroom at a large house where Polly lives. There even more of the ensemble cast shows up – including more dogs and a cat – and pretty soon they’ve about taken over Laura’s life – but in a good way.
At first she’s a bit stunned at how well everyone gets along, the stylish clothing choices both Nina and Polly wear, the rapid paced yet funny way most people speak, and how handsome Bob is. Laura’s family are all PhDs and professors in New York and they Do Not Approve of Laura’s choice to leave home and enter the PT program. It’s far beneath what they feel she ought to be doing plus there are her lingering anxiety and panic attacks caused by a horrific car crash she was in. Frankly Laura’s mother came across to me as a slightly nicer version of Dr. Beverly Hofstadter.
In this group of people Laura feels she’s finally finding friends. She is tired of repeating to her family – her mother and her ex-fiance (total douche) in particular – that these are her choices and what she wants to do. Why can’t they just accept it? She’s also getting past the initial impact of how handsome Bob is (really, there’s a lot more to him than just his face and the fact that even with his face he’s not a douchebag) and discovering that he enjoys sports as much as she does, that she likes gardening with him and he’s someone she can just be relaxed with and enjoy her time with him. What she isn’t sure of are his feelings beyond friendship for her. Is she just the tall, shy, anxiety prone neighbor across the hall with whom he can trash talk sports (Dodgers vs Yankees, Knicks vs Lakers) or could there be more?
The setup must be swallowed whole – a strange woman appears dripping wet in a bookstore and is whisked into the lives of these people with precious few questions asked, including by the woman willing to rent Laura a room in her home with no references, or first/last month rent. True Maggie is a psychiatrist so I guess maybe she’s better at reading people (except for her daughter who she has royally messed up her relationship with)? but, wow. I also wondered if everyone talks this way in Southern California – like quipsters. I’m used to it from “Nina Hill” and “Garden” and actually love the dry humor but it does read like a Hollywood scripted rom-com and not how people usually speak.
Some main characters from “Garden” appear a little but most not too much. Bob is the main one. Nina and Polly and Liz from “Nina Hill” appear the most. But for the rest? If you don’t know them, don’t sweat it or try to remember who they are. I think perhaps a next book is being set up for two other characters but will have to wait and see.
I love the cats and dogs and some omniscient voice moments from them. Phil the cat is back along with Ferdinand the cat from the bookstore who does not like having her (Ferdinand’s gender was discovered when she gave birth) space invaded (she’s “beyond peeved”) and who contemplates writing a letter to her Senator about it. Then there are two dogs and a new cat who live in the house where Laura, Bob, and Polly live. Bob and Polly are having a custody dispute over one of them.
Laura looked down. The gray cat had arrived and curled his tail around his feet with the elegant precision of an Englishman furling an umbrella. Herbert the dog was behind him, his tail waving hopefully. Behind them, a sedate distance away, was a small ottoman in the shape of a pug. Her tail wasn’t moving, and she fixed Laura with a boggling eye that said she’d resigned herself to the shortcomings of the human race and didn’t expect this tall drink of water to buck the trend. Laura wondered where she’d been the evening before. At work? On a date?
This is a slow burn romance. A very, very slow burn romance. Both Bob and Laura are shy and quiet people. Laura has been subsumed by her ex-fiancé for years while Bob’s handsome face reels in the ladies before his lack of suave small talk (or PPST:piss poor small talk, according to his sister) and tendency to revert to what he knows – sports and soil – cause their eyes to glaze over. So both of them aren’t sure about their staying power in a relationship. Everyone around them is and there are eye rolls aplenty about their obtuseness but Laura and Bob are painfully unsure. In a way I can absolutely understand this but part of me was still, at times, wanting to yell “Just go ahead and f*ck like bunnies already!”
What worked beautifully for me about them together is that they are calm, friendly, attuned to each other, want to just spend time together, and are endlessly supportive. We get to watch them fall in love (like settling down on a comfy sofa under an afghan your grandmother crocheted) while watching a favorite program or listening to much loved music. He helps her slowly tackle her motor vehicle anxiety while she encourages his (self-scoffed-at) desire to attend a grad school horticulture program. They’re not only supportive of each other, they’re good for each other. I will forgive the sloooooow burn for this. B+
“You know when you’re wandering around a new city and nothing looks familiar, and suddenly you turn a corner and know where you are?”
She nodded, her head swimming. The last few months had been filled with moments like that.
He reached out and took her hands. “That’s how you make me feel. Like I’m not lost anymore. Like I know where I’m going. Like everything’s settled into place.”