cover image Immediate Family

Immediate Family

Ashley Nelson Levy. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (192p) ISBN 978-0-374-60141-6

A woman wrestles with her upbringing in a prolonged wedding toast in Levy’s wrenching debut. Thai-born Danny Larsen, who was adopted by Americans, makes a last-minute request that his white sister, the unnamed narrator, fill in with a speech at his wedding after the best man backs out. In the speech, she rehashes her and Danny’s tumultuous history, including their parents’ five-year wait to adopt a child, beginning in 1989, before matching with three-year-old Danny, when the narrator was nine. Danny brings with him an obscured past and ferocious tantrums. As a teen, Danny begins charging expensive items to their parents’ credit card without permission, which strains the family financially. The narrator also lays bare her struggles with infertility and describes her ambivalent feelings about adoption (“The fact that I could do this felt both convenient and questionable”). Powerful vignettes, such as memories of Danny being bullied as a child for looking different, blend with musings about the history of transracial adoption, Victorian literature, and famous adoptees. It’s no small feat that Levy manages to hold all of these elements in the frame of the speech; the smooth flights may remind readers of Donald Antrim’s novels. This exhibits a delicate touch while unpacking a complicated relationship, yielding much emotional insight. Agent: Sarah Bowlin, Aevitas Creative. (Aug.)