Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein (4 out of 5)
I got this copy courtesy of Algonquin Books and my new contact Amy. I’m a sucker for a great cover, and this is no exception. I also had read the synposis and thought that for some reason, this book reminded me a lot of a book that I read several years ago and loved to death (check it out – Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving). When I get that vibe, it’s best to not ignore it. I’m glad I didn’t, because I really enjoyed this book. Light, funny, and yet heartrending in parts, it was a quick read and a pleasant surprise.
Andy Waite is a biology professor who’s teaching a class in evolutionary biology and conducting independent research on it, and religion really is one of the last things he wants to talk about. Andy wants to talk even less about his continual grief over his deceased wife Wendy, who was killed in a car accident with a drunk driver fifteen years ago. The driver is up for parole, Andy’s daughters are starting to ask questions about that driver, and into Andy’s office walks Melissa Potter, a student who challenges him to advise her study of intelligent design. Although this is the last thing on planet Earth that Andy wants to do, he’s compelled by her charismatic, somewhat persistent arguments to join in her intelligent design study. Andy’s got a kid in one of his courses who’s a loner and on his third or fourth go-round with Andy’s course who likes to pick fights with Andy(to give you an idea, the kid is a Campus Crusader for Christ. Take it from there!), and that kid plays quite a part in this little tale. Andy’s still wrestling with his grief, with teen and pre-teen daughters going through hormonal changes, and begins to question everything he’s believed in all these years. Science and being a Darwinist seem to go out the window by the end of the book, and that was somewhat unbelievable to me, as Andy is a hard-core Darwinist and unyielding in his beliefs. You want to believe that Melissa asking him to do the intelligent design study makes him doubt what he’s seen as truth all of these years, but even that is not quite clear. By the end, you’re torn. You love the whimsical nature of the book, the characters and the interactions of science and religion, and the hopeful attempts of Andy to move on with his life without his beloved wife.
Here’s what I liked: pretty much everything. I think Andy is a crazily entertaining, good guy whom I was really rooting for, even as his ironclad beliefs suddenly seemed to be tottering in the wind of change. His relationship with the kid, his students, and Melissa are realistic and yet hilarious at moments. His heartbreak over his wife is palpable, even after fifteen years. His struggle as a widowed father is also paramount, but you feel like rooting for him when he starts to notice the opposite sex again. There are some pretty interesting sides to both stories here, and you get both of them from Grodstein, who has obviously done her homework in the field. I did not really care for how Andy’s beliefs suddenly aren’t so rock solid, and he starts doubting those things he’s believed in and led him through the primrose path of the collegiate field all the years he’s been a professor. It seemed a little forced to me. Overall, though, I can’t say i didn’t love this little book. it was a great read, and a book club would go nutty over this one because it raises a lot of pertinent questions, as well as the father-daughter relationships with Andy and his girls. A great read overall.