Title: The Explanation for Everything
Author: Lauren Grodstein, she is the author of a previous novel, Reproduction is the Flaw of Love.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Readers: At-home parent ErinGoBragh, non-profit director Kimberly, and teachers Shannon and Ninian.
Summary: 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.
Our Take: All our readers were enthralled by this book, that gets to some deep issues of belief (or lack thereof). We loved the characters and Grodstein’s writing. Some of us found a few plot points a little too oversimplified, but overall we found a lot to like about The Explanation for Everything.
Yes, this novel tackles the hardest questions of being human–is there a God? Who made the universe? But Grodstein is a facile writer who handles big ideas with grace and ease. The characters are so rich and full you almost forget that you are learning about some big concepts while at the same time following their personal stories.
College professor Andy, the main character, grapples with the loss of his beloved wife and with raising their daughters on his own. His pain and grief was painfully and beautifully depicted. What didn’t quite ring true was his transformation from die-hard atheist to believer, all seemingly through the influence of his Christian student, Melissa. In the end though, there are no easy answers given, no pat ending here. Instead, I finished this novel inspired by the mysteries we all struggle with as humans, particularly when we lose someone we love deeply.
I like books where characters grow and change and possibly even teach me something through their journey. The Explanation for Everything is such a book.
The protagonist, Andy Waite, is a college biology professor who is struggling—struggling at work to advance his research and realize his potential and struggling in life since the death of his wife. An avowed atheist, Andy, through his relationship with a student becomes open to the possibility of God and religion, and that changing perspective is the catalyst for the growth that both he and his family need.
The book delivers an interesting, well-written story, and was a compelling read. For me, though, it is less about finding religion and more about the transition from grieving to living. Or, as Andy’s daughter, Rachel, explains, it is about “trying to be happy.”
The author, Lauren Grodstein, juxtaposes Andy’s story of religious awakening with that of Hank Rosenblum, his former mentor, and Anita Lim, another scientist whose questioning of the origins of life drove her from the research lab to church with unfortunate circumstances. These storylines are executed successfully and offer a nice contrast to one another. At times, even, I wanted more of Rosenblum and Anita, as their stories were a bit more colorful than Andy’s.
Overall, I enjoyed The Explanation for Everything and took away from it the possibility that no viewpoint is absolute. As our lives progress, our search for meaning and purpose evolves, and consequently, so can our hold on a particular belief or belief system.
The Explanation for Everything is worth reading, and I’m adding Grodstein’s earlier novel to my “to read” list.
I hesitate to say too much about Andy’s journey because it’s one worth reading in its entirety. Lauren Grodstein’s characters feel very real and make the same rash life choices that people do in real life, particularly when they are overcome by guilt or grief. The novel does show several connected characters making the same drastic decisions, which seems a little over the top. Still, The Explanation for Everything manages to tackle some big, heavy topics without ever dropping the weight on readers.
Rather than seeking an answer in the debate over intelligent design, The Explanation for Everything examines how faith, or lack thereof, can be shaken by loss or personal tragedy. While this might come across as an uncommitted resolution to some, it allows Grodstein to write a novel that can appeal to readers from across the religious spectrum. In the end, The Explanation for Everything is thought-provoking and compulsively readable as it focuses on the blurred lines between faith and doubt.
I did not like this book at first. However, once I got to know him, I really liked Andy Waite. Single dad, struggling to do the right thing for his daughters who were increasingly growing in to people he didn’t wholly understand, what’s not to like? He worked hard, he tried to do the right thing, he believed in the things he was teaching. He really missed his wife. I mean, really missed her. He imagined he saw her at every turn, as if she wasn’t really dead but was there watching over him.
Despite the slow start, I found that I couldn’t put this book down. I liked the writing, I liked the story. I was hoping that Andy would find what he was seeking and find some peace in his life. I was, however, surprised with how easily Andy was influenced by Melissa’s faith and that he exposed his daughters to it as well. As Andy explores faith and a relationship with god, I felt that the book became a bit preachy supporting the faith-based life and giving the impression that a life without faith is not worth having. The side story of Lionel Shell I found really interesting and wish that Grodstein had explored this relationship more.
I think that this book is a good read and hopefully it will leave readers with questions rather than answers.