Monday, August 3, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things

by Julia Pierpont
Random House     2015
336 pages     Literary Fiction

I have been thinking a great deal about betrayal since I began reading Among the Ten Thousand Things. What constitutes betrayal? Can a person ever trust again after a betrayal? How do children recover from betrayal? Does the betrayer ever truly understand the ramifications of what he/she has done?  Julia Pierpont gives us a remarkable insight into betrayal and infidelity in a very honest, raw portrayal of a family in crisis. 

Jack, the husband of Deb and the father of Simon (15) and Kit (11) has an affair with a young woman—the beginnings of the betrayal. Deb discovers that he is having an affair but chooses to ignore it. When the affair ends, the young woman, feeling betrayed and abandoned, sends a package to Deb including all the miscellany of  the affair—emails, text messages, and online chats. (There is a lesson in this right off the bat.) The package is intercepted by daughter Kit, who thinks it is an early birthday present. Not quite understanding everything the package includes, she knows it is something salacious and wrong, so she gives it to her brother, Simon. Simon is so disgusted by what he reads that he passes it on immediately to his mother. Now, Deb, Jack, and the children must deal with the infidelity and ultimately, with the betrayal. Among the Ten Thousand Things explores how each family member, including Jack, responds to the letters, the betrayal, and the fallout.

We have much more sympathy for Simon and Kit than we do for the parents, although each parent tries in their own way to ease the pain for the children. Simon is more mature than one might expect, but he is also a typical teenager in his self-centeredness. Kit chooses to try to figure out the sexual context of the letters in the package by writing them into Seinfeld episodes—her favorite TV show. 

By following the paths taken by each of the characters, USA Today says "The shock of the new in Among the Ten Thousand Things comes less from its references to email and sitcoms than from its 28-year-old author's profound grasp of family dynamics, from her expert ventriloquism (her shifting between the various characters' voices and perspectives is distinct and assured), and from her structural boldness." One of the most striking portions of the book occurs right in a middle section in which the author tells us what is going to happen to the family in the years following the betrayal. It is an interesting place to put the first of two epilogues, but it causes the reader to truly ponder consequences. Some reviewers felt that the epilogue in the middle made the last half of the book extraneous, but I felt that it enhanced the drama.
Pierpont gives us a great insight into how individuals respond to family crisis.

I have witnessed several betrayals in my lifetime—some more debilitating than others. The truth that Pierpont expresses is that betrayal continues to color the life experience of all affected participants. Betrayal is something that just can't be glossed over or forgotten. The author speaks to this in the final epilogue of the book. Simon and Kit (now Katherine) are returning to their family apartment to gather up their childhood belongings. After lunch "Katherine paid the bill while Simon plucked dusty mints from the bowl by the register. When she pulled out her wallet, a strip of toilet paper flew out too. The mess of her bag was the first time Simon wondered if her life was not all the things she wanted it to seem." 

The review in USA Today.
The story of how Pierpont, a first time author, sold the manuscript. In Vogue.
Julia Pierpont's website.


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