Thursday, January 07, 2016

Oh I'm becoming a ghost in your life, and you're becoming a specter in mine.

Among the Ten Thousand ThingsAmong the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jack Shanley is a fairly well-known New York artist. He's a married father of two. He's also an adulterer, who carries on affairs in his New York studio. This comes back to bite him, so to speak, when one of his exes sends his wife a large box chronicling their entire relationship - emails, texts, sexts - all printed and contained in this one box. The box is delivered to Jack's apartment and opened by his eleven-year-old daughter, Kay, and fifteen-year-old son, Simon. They show the box to their mother, Deb, forcing her to confront the many flaws of her husband. Meanwhile, Kay and Simon are (justifiably) traumatized by the box's contents and the possible dissolution of their parents' marriage.

This was an odd book. As a child of divorce, a lot of this book hit home, and I felt myself feeling a great deal of sympathy for Deb, Kay, and Simon - especially as they disappear off to their vacation home, of sorts, to recover. (Alas, no vacation home when I was a child.) Julia Pierpoint is certainly a strong writer and her prose is lovely and well-crafted. Still, the book often just seems a little flat.

The strangest part of this book, to me, as many other reviewers have pointed out - is that is constructed in four parts - parts one and three basically deal with the immediate aftermath of the box's delivery and how the family reacts. Parts two and four tell us what happen to Jack, Deb, Kay, and Simon for their entire lives. It's an odd author tool, and I'm not sure it entirely works. For me, I was caught up enough in Part One's tale and then found Part Two incredibly jarring - even more so to be dumped back into the current story at Part Three. Part Four repeats Two a bit and tells a bit more about what happens to the characters. It's an odd device, and I really would have preferred not to have had Part Two stuck in there at all. I suppose it's an artistic overreach that appeals to critics but not most actual readers.

Overall, I found the book an intriguing look at a family dealing with a father's betrayal. Not a ton happens - it's not that sort of book - but Pierpont's writing is strong, and I liked Simon and Kay. I am not sure the book is one that will leave a lasting impression with me, though.

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