I've been reading a fair amount of fantasy lately and it was refreshing to dip back into the literary fiction pool with Among the Ten Thousand Things
. As is typical of literary fiction, not much happens in this novel. If you're looking for something action packed, a nail-biter with lots of twists and turns, keep looking. One or two major events form the basic plot points, but the real action is in the character development. Reinforcing this is the unusual move she makes with her second and fourth sections. The second is a sort of flash-forward summary of how the characters all end up, how the major tension of the novel is resolved; the fourth is much the same - echoing many of these synopses while including several new details. The first and third sections focus instead on distinct moments along this continuum. Pierpont plucks a handful of experiences and magnifies them. In doing so she provides us with a brief insight on how this failing marriage impacts each of the family members involved. This leads us away from an "if-this-then-that" type of plot structure towards one that's more like "if-this-then-what?" She forces us to look at the many, many layers that form these complex family relationships, making everything a grey area.
I've seen a number of complaints that this is a slow read, but I think that's intentional. Meditating on the mundanity of daily life - even the mundanity of an affair, of a divorce - strips away the glamour and leaves us with something more complicated. In this way, basic observations and gestures become poetic and memorable, the characters become more intimate. It becomes more like our own lives. Aside from the first couple of chapters, where you really hit the ground running with those dirty emails, she tends to favor introspection over drama. I enjoyed taking my time with this book and found Pierpont's style to be right up my alley. I'll definitely be on the lookout for whatever's next from her.