Reviews of this novel from NPR and The New York Times were effusive. The NPR reviewer called Among the Ten Thousand Things suspenseful and compared it favorably to Gone Girl. The NYT reviewer was impressed with Pierpont’s writing style and the way she structured her novel, as well as with her mature character development given that Pierpont is only 28 and this is her first novel. While I can see why the NYT reviewer feels this way, my overall impression of this story was … less than effusive. Among the Ten Thousand Things is the anatomy of a divorce, a dissection of the family involved. The story does begin in a lively and unexpected manner, but there was little to nothing in the way of suspense as far as I’m concerned. I felt disappointed by the time I reached the end.
The novel begins with a letter from Jack Shanley’s ex-lover to his wife Deb. Jack, a modestly successful artist, has unceremoniously dumped the young woman, and she has decided to exact her revenge and appease her anger by sending Deb copies of every salacious text exchange she’d had with Jack. When the bulky package arrives at their apartment, 11-year-old daughter Kay opens it, thinking perhaps it’s an early birthday present for her. What she reads shocks her and angers her 15-year-old brother Simon. Deb is horrified because,
She was the victim, yes, but in front of her children, she understood at once what else she would become, which was a guilty party….
You see, Deb had been aware for some time of Jack’s infidelity and had already confronted him about it. She and Jack seemed to want to stay married, but once the kids read the texts and Deb herself read the details of the intimate affair and of her replacement in Jack’s confidences (as she had replaced Jack’s first wife 15 years ago), her anger was rekindled. Simon is furious with both of his parents, Kay is lost and alone, Deb dithers, and Jack is a clueless boob.
Pierpont has Deb and the kids take a trip to the beach while Jack, after suffering a professional disaster (his art blows up just like his marriage), takes off for the West and a visit to mother. Our characters continue to make poor decisions until the final crisis that brings them together again. I won’t tell you whether that’s for good or not, even though Pierpont interrupts her narrative early on to give us a glimpse of the future for each character. The NYT reviewer found this contrivance brilliant but I found it distracting and pointless.
In the end, I was reminded of Tolstoy’s famous quote from Anna Karenina:
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
While this may be true, it does not mean that each family’s particular unhappiness is worthy of a novel.