Andy Waite is a young father, atheist, and biologist, raising his daughters alone after the death of his wife, Lou, in Lauren Grodstein’s new novel, The Explanation for Everything. Andy is adrift and at somewhat of a crossroads – estranged from his brilliant but scandal plagued mentor, attempting tenure at what he considers to be a second tier university, managing his girls (who seem older by the minute), and troubled by unexpected results in the research that is the cornerstone for a grant he is seeking. Though Lou, died several years before, he still grieves deeply for her and sees her ghost everywhere. Andy’s life takes several unexpected turns when Lionel, a young Creationist, joins one of his courses, and then steers Melissa, a young woman seeking sponsorship for an independent study in Intelligent Design, Andy’s way.
The Explanation of Everything proves why Grodstein’s work is lauded by readers and critics alike. Her writing is lovely and well-considered. I loved the details that supported the intimate portrait of Andy’s relationships with his daughters, his neighbor, Sheila, and his place among the faculty and staff. Grodstein made it easy to see why Andy arrived at some of his conclusions, and how he could have wandered so far off track.
Still, there was something missing (a lack of urgency, too much apathy from the characters?), that was hard to pinpoint and bogged the story down. While I was happy enough while reading it, I didn’t find particularly compelling reasons to go back to it once I had set it aside. While Andy and his daughters were fully realized (and maybe even Lionel, whose character I really enjoyed), the revolving female characters would have benefited the novel had they been fleshed out a little more. I also would have liked to have more cohesion in the way certain story lines were linked. Halfway through, a story that was before only mentioned in passing, takes center stage in a way that is rather jarring, even though it’s also one of the more fascinating aspects of the book. As carefully paced as it is the ending is rather abrupt and vaguely unsatisfying.
Ultimately, The Explanation for Everything didn’t work for me as fully as I had hoped, but Grodstein is an author whose work I will continue to look forward to. A Friend of the Family comes very highly recommended, so luckily I will have that to read in the meanwhile.