Sign up for newsletter >>
Book Review: Adult Drama

Book Review: Adult Drama

What does art that passes an amorphous purity test look like? It’s the question that has remained woefully uninterrogated in the wake of #MeToo and the waves of cancellation it inspired.

Fortunately, now that Natalie Beach has released her essay collection, Adult Drama, we have a clear-cut answer. It’s the stuff locked in the basement of the Longhouse, the organic endgame of the most grating high-school acquaintance getting a rarified megaphone instead of the Facebook rants you muted quite early in the fall of 2016.

Before this book, Beach’s one shred of notoriety was her takedown of Caroline Calloway in a viral 2019 article for The Cut that revealed her stint as the Instagram megastar’s sometime ghostwriter. That summer, thanks to Beach, the unfiltered nerds got their revenge. The perpetually disheveled freaks and geeks were ascendant. It was time to hear what they had to say.

If Beach’s collection is any indication, the experience of the oppressed is mostly centered around being unable to fit into Abercrombie low-rise jeans as a teen and spending one summer as landscaper to the Purell dynasty. In the hands of a more self-aware writer like Sloane Crosley or Becca Rothfeld, such asides would be endearing, even dedicated to parsing out why the myth of the awkward suburbanite’s migration to the big city is so central to American cultural capital. Instead, Beach is the kind of writer who would use her mother-in-law’s last days in hospice to meditate on her own inability to feel like she’s marriage material.

Adult Drama drowns in a host of flaws from Beach’s struggle to integrate thematic threads to her habit of hamfistedly inserting out-of-context Susan Sontag quotes to create the illusion of depth. But the most fatal is her lack of empathy—not only for Calloway (who she dunks on for two whole essays) but for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the most baseline liberal pablum imaginable. The protestors she caricatures in an essay about her stint as an abortion clinic escort make the unbelievers in a Christian movie look as carefully crafted as a Henry James antagonist. So do the recently deceased whose things she rifles through at estate sales while bemoaning their Reagan paraphernalia. 

The book is such an absolute disaster that it paved the way for Calloway’s long elusive legacy media coronation. In the end, it's Beach, not Calloway who has become a cautionary tale. Adult Drama merits serious attention because it’s quite inadvertently a harrowing glimpse into an American culture that could have been and still may well be–one that makes us thankful that, this time at least, nature really does seem to be healing.