Among the Ten Thousand Things

When Jack Shanley’s ex-mistress sends his wife, Deb, a package containing seven months’ worth of emails ranging from affectionate to filthy, the couple’s New York City doorman inadvertently gives it to their 11-year-old daughter, Kay. She promptly shows the letters to her brother, Simon, 15, who then delivers them to their mother. As Jack, a successful artist—and textbook narcissist—struggles to see what he did wrong (“It’s not like I killed anybody,” he thinks), the effects of his dalliance ripple through the stunned family. Kay, bullied at school, boxes up her trembling, frightened sadness along with her voice, while Simon angrily sloughs off both parents to pursue a girl. Deb, whose ballet career was cut short when she met Jack, tries to figure out the balance between what’s best for her kids and endurable for herself.

Pierpont’s language is heart-stopping. In one scene, with her characters suspended in emotional turmoil, she pauses to describe their empty house (“The mirrors stood with no one in them”). There’s even a sparse, poetic interlude in the middle of the book that skips across the family’s lives for decades until one of them dies (“The end is never a surprise,” she writes). Then she rewinds the decades and picks up where she left off. It’s the kind of structural risk that shouldn’t work, but in her skilled hands it lands beautifully.

Technically, of course, this is a domestic drama. But between Pierpont’s literary finesse and her captivating characters, it reads like a page-turner. A

Among the Ten Thousand Things
2015 book
  • Book