The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein
Published by Algonquin Books on September 3rd, 2013
Genres: adult, contemporary
Buy on Amazon
There is nothing inherently threatening about Melissa, a young evangelist hoping to write the definitive paper on intelligent design. But when she implores Andy Waite, a biology professor and a hardcore evolutionist, to direct her independent study, she becomes the catalyst for the collapsing house of cards surrounding him. As he works with Melissa, Andy finds that everything about his world is starting to add up differently. Suddenly there is the possibility of faith. But with it come responsibility and guilt—the very things that Andy has sidestepped for years.
Professor Waite is nearing the moment when his life might settle down a bit: tenure is in sight, his daughters are starting to grow up, and he’s slowly but surely healing from the sudden loss of his wife. His life is starting to make sense again—until the scientific stance that has defined his life(and his work) is challenged by this charismatic student.
In a bravura performance, Lauren Grodstein dissects the permeable line between faith and doubt to create a fiercely intelligent story about the lies we tell ourselves, the deceptions we sustain with others, and how violated boundaries—between students and teachers, believers and nonbelievers—can have devastating consequences.
Okay, let’s get the background out of the way first. Unfortunately, some of it is missing since I cannot seem to find the review I had on Goodreads. I did delete my Goodread account but the review shot have imported to Book Likes and it is not there, so I am wondering if that is another thing that Goodreads deleted.
At any rate, I do have a screenshot from my conversation with the author on Twitter and it has refreshed my memory a bit. I remember reading the blurb on Goodreads and being pretty offended over it. The blurb that I have listed above is NOT that blurb, so I am guessing the publisher changed it. I did have it copy-pasted in my review space, but alas, that is gone. But that is the reason the author and I started talking on Twitter. She addressed my concerns and assured me that the book was not preachy and not anti-Atheism. You can see part of the conversation below in which she offers to send me a galley.
I was very interested in this novel and the perspectives it presented so I accepted. It took me a while to get to the book, but now that I have, I am conflicted. And for the record, I do not want to talk about the author in this review, but seeing as she’s an Atheist and so am I, I don’t know how I can avoid it.
I did like the book. But I don’t think it presented Atheism in all that positive a way. I also think the arguments the author used to present the credibility of An Atheistic point of view were poor. Never once did the protagonist present any of the arguments that make Atheism so convincing: the fossil record, that all religions branch off from the same main ideas, what our Founding Fathers believed, etc. A lot of the things that convinced me personally to become an Atheist were missing. The narrative mentions Richard Dawkins a lot but never once mentions Christopher Hitchens (!!!) and just keeps going on about evolutionary biology and misses mentioning many of the convincing facts that make Atheism seem like a realistic choice for many non-believers.
I also feels like the book portrays a slanted view towards Christianity. Why are all the Christian characters the “good people?” Why does it seem like the Atheists are the ones with no morals and shitty personalities? You can have good ethics AND be an Atheist, and I think the book portrays Atheists as unhappy with their lives because they don’t have an afterlife to live for. And that is some serious bullshit. Why do more characters in the book convert to Christianity, but only one becomes an Atheist? It just seems to me that Christianity is shown in such a positive light and the opposite is true for the other side.
For the record, I am not saying this is what the author attempted to do. But this is how it read to me personally. And that is all I can go by. You can’t tell someone they read something wrong. Especially when I really tried to go into this book with a positive attitude. I really wanted to love it.
As for the characters, they were well written. They weren’t particularly likable, but they were convincing enough and interesting to read. I also like the author’s writing style and voice. But it’s hard to enjoy the story when you don’t like the ideas in the book.
I don’t want anyone to think I hated it. Because I didn’t. I enjoyed the first half very much. The issues for me began when Andy starts to question his faith. He allows his very young daughter to be baptized and I truly feel that if you were secure in your stance as an Atheist, you would never allow that to happen. Also, any Atheist worth his/her salt knows how to argue a Creationist into the ground. Especially a college professor with a PHD. This was especially unbelievable to me. Why did he even take on her independent study? Because he didn’t do it to disprove her beliefs. Like c’mon here. I am not buying it.
Really, I am just scratching the surface with everything I found wrong with the book. I am honestly finding it hard to give this book a 3 star rating at this point. But I think for now I will leave it because it made me think. It didn’t make me angry either, I just didn’t agree. But really, if I gave half stars (I do on Book Likes) I would be giving it a 2.5. This book is incredibly frustrating. If you do decide to read it, please let me know because I would love to hear your thoughts. I’m trying to get Dan to read it this summer since he even knows more about this topic than I do.