In Julia Pierpont’s terrific debut novel, Among the Ten Thousand Things (July 2015), a family is shattered by the husband’s infidelity. The book opens with a letter from the husband’s mistress: “I began sleeping with your husband last June (1),” that is accompanied by a box of Xeroxed emails detailing the affair’s history and its more salacious events.
We are uncertain if this was a guilty woman’s confession or a missile aimed at Jack, the husband who terminated the affair after his wife found out, and it doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that the box was intended for Jack’s wife, Deb, but inadvertently ended up in the hands of their children, Simon, aged 15, and Kay, aged 11.
In prose bright and fluid, Pierpont explores the dissolution of a marriage and its aftermath. Nothing is easy. The children act out in ways typical of early teens, but magnified by their trauma. Kay writes sexually explicit episodes of Seinfeld, though at eleven, has little understanding of what she’s writing. Ben withdraws, desperate for, but unwilling to accept his father’s apology and attention. He does what any fifteen-year-old would do—check his self-worth with a beautiful girl. Even Jack, the philanderer, aware of the ripples his actions have caused, is unsure how to fix the damage he has caused.
All four members of this broken family must learn to navigate new lives. Deb has no playbook for seeing her children through this trauma. You feel her shooting from the hip, leaving her well-to-do life in Manhattan for a rusty cabin in Rhode Island as if running away solves everything. If only.
Whether you’ve been down this route or not, Pierpont has made you feel present as a family breaks apart and learns to move forward in pieces.
I highly recommend this book to fans of general fiction, women’s fiction, and literary fiction.
Reviewed by Carol Malkin
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