Thursday, July 9, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things

Title:  Among the Ten Thousand Things
Author:  Julia Pierpont
Publication Information:  Random House. 2015. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0812995228 / 978-0812995220

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Dear Deborah, Do you go by Deborah?"

Favorite Quote:  "We thought we were living in between-time, after this and before that, but it's the between-time that lasted."

What if you knew your husband was cheating on you for months? What if you did nothing? What if your husband's ex-mistress sends you a package full of letters and messages your husband sent her? What if many of these messages are explicit and filthy? What if your eleven year old daughter and your fifteen year old son are the ones to find the package? What if they read the contents? What if they bring it to you? What then do you do?

This is the powerful beginning of Among the Ten Thousand Things, the debut novel by Julia Pierpont. Unfortunately, the opening scenes are also the highlight of the book for me. The remainder of the book focuses on reactions and perspectives - Jack the husband, Deb the wife, Simon the fifteen year old, and Kay the eleven year old. The book becomes about a family who has fallen apart but who stays together, held together by children and history. It becomes a character-driven novel about survival and about how much you are willing to tolerate to hold a family together.

But do they stay together? Why or why not? Those are the questions that have me engaged and wondering through the first part of the book.

"The end is never a surprise. People say, Don't tell me, Don't spoil it, and then later they say, If only I'd known..." So ends Part 2 of this book, which is titled "That Year and Those That Followed." What it should be titled is "spoiler alert." Part 1 of the book sets up the heartache of this family and keeps the reader wondering as to the choices this couple will make. Part 2 tells you how it all ends and what eventually happens to each member of this family. It answers the question of whether or not Jack and Deb stay together. Part 3 picks up where Part 1 ends. Part 4 goes back to the end and what eventually happens.

I completely do not understand this structure. It seems a deliberate attempt to make the book more literally; unfortunately, for me, it makes it less of a story. In this case, I want the ending to be a surprise. If the objective of the book is a portrait of a family making their way through infidelity and betrayal, I want to experience that journey and then be caught up in where they end. Once I know the end, I have trouble engaging in how they get there.

The likelihood of being engaged in the story may be higher if the characters are likable or at least sympathetic. In this case, they are neither. Jack is a self-absorbed and narcissistic artist. It's all about him. Deb plods along; by not doing anything, she makes a choice. She learns of Jack's infidelity months before, but chooses to do nothing for she likes being married and cannot imagine a divorce. Her lack of action becomes a choice. Her realization when the package arrives is that by doing nothing, she has become equally guilty for the harm it brings to her children. Simon and Kay could be the heart-wrenching innocents in this situation except that other troubles - drugs, teenage angst, bullying - beyond their parent's marriage plague them already. Too much is happening in their little lives for the focus to remain on the impact of their father's betrayal. A character-driven book without characters that engage you emotionally is a tough sell for me.

The book has a beautiful cover, an intriguing title, an emotional premise, and a strong beginning. Unfortunately, the rest of the execution for me does not quite live up to the promise of the beginning.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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