Among The Ten Thousand Things (out today): how to elevate a run-of-the-mill failing marriage story above the din to make it something different, fresh, readable, memorable. She succeeds in spades.
This deft, subtly complex story stands out for its structure, its writing, and for how it handles the difficult question: "Is cheating always and without exception a divorce-able offense?"
The novel starts with a bang: A New York City couple's 11-year-old daughter Kay discovers a box of printed-out filthy emails and instant messages between her father Jack and his mistress. Kay shows it to her brother, 15-year-old Simon, and they both show it to their mother, Deb. Deb already knew about the affair, which Jack claims has ended, but the kids finding out is the last straw. Or is it?
The opening few pages of this novel get their claws in you like few novels can — and that's not just because of the immediate interest of the kids discovering the box of sexy missives. In the first scene, we see Kay's friends picking on her for not knowing how to ride a bike — a perfect way to encapsulate the transition between childhood (bike-riding) and the tough, potentially cruel upcoming teenage years. As well, in the next scene, we see Simon smoking pot for the first time with an older girl he has a crush on — just another great depiction of the peer pressure and pitfalls of being a teenager.
Indeed, much of this novel — and another reason it's better than the "traditional" failing marriage story — is that it really focuses on the effects of the affair on these two kids at such pivotal times in their lives. What kind of people will they wind up being?
Thankfully, we don't have to wait long to learn the answer. Another standout part of this novel is that after about the first third, Pierpont pauses the story and writes a short, poetic section that follows each character many years into the future. Then, she continues with the story. Your first instinct here is to scream "spoiler alert." But it's a fascinating structural choice. And near the end of that section, Pierpont explains this way: "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." I really loved this, both for its inventiveness and because it gives a fresh perspective for the rest of the novel, as Deb takes the kids out of New York City to the family's summer cottage, and Jack goes on a weird sort of vision quest across the country.
There's so much packed in to this slim, beautifully written story — art, Atlas Shrugged, dance, erotic episodes of Seinfeld, secrets revealed, and the fraught parent-child relationship. I loved it. It's about as confident a debut as you'll find. Highly recommended.