REVIEW: The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin

In brief: Ethan and Zo’s lives have changed a lot after moving to a small town. Now Zo is a dedicated activist and Ethan is left to pick up the pieces without knowing where he’s going.

The good: A different perspective on the rage within America.

The not-so-good: You’ll either like these characters or loathe them.

Why I chose it: Sounded a bit different. Thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 335

Publisher: Riverrun (Hachette)

Setting: America

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The Smash-Up is hard to define. It’s a novel (that’s easy) that encompasses the lives of one family but it also covers problems much larger than one town and at times, even the USA. Some themes are universal, some are local. It’s a ball of rage, unrest and unfairness set the in the Trump era told from the point of view of a white middle class man, but before you move on – it’s not like that. It’s a balanced portrayal of #MeToo, American politics and not fitting in to the cultural norms.

Zo and Ethan were once a couple with big dreams. She was a film maker; he was part of the internet revolution. But Ethan sold out his share and now designs websites for doctors who cherry pick evidence to suit and Zo is far too busy being angry to work on her current project. She’s part of a female activist group (All Them Witches) and is trying to get their daughter Alex in to see a paediatrician. Alex doesn’t fit in with the other kids at her private school – she’s a chatterbox and moves at a million miles per hour. Even some of her classmates’ parents are starting to question whether she belongs with their little darlings. Alex is also incredibly fun. Ethan is lost as Zo moves further away, always seeming angry (or ordering furniture online). His solace is through quiet morning walks to the local diner where he engages with his neighbours, conversations with the local UPS store employee and a weird kind of fixation with their houseguest. He’s there to attempt to pick up the pieces – oh and to try to stop a former employee of his company (now world-famous actress) from joining a class action against the co-founder.

The novel has some funny moments, as well as some jaw dropping ones. While Ethan is fairly predictable, Zo is not. She goads the police into arresting her and sometimes it seems her anger has no limits, no matter how big or small the target is. Ethan is by no means the stereotypical hero, as he spends a lot of time pondering the ‘right’ thing to do, whether it be blackmailing someone or returning a rug without telling Zo. One part I did enjoy were the flashbacks to Ethan’s company, Bränd, and their new style of marketing. It was more light hearted and fun to read about big, bold ideas after the minutiae of Ethan’s life. The ending was very powerful and really grabbed my interest as it was so unexpected (but maybe it shouldn’t have been).

Overall, The Smash-Up is very well written and held my interest as it tackled big issues from a small-town viewpoint.

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