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Literary Friday: The Explanation for Everything

Friday, November 8, 2013

This week I read another book club selection:  The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein.

I truly had high hopes for this book because it explores one of the most polarizing debates:  evolution v. intelligent design.  Professor Andy Waite, a biology professor and diehard evolutionist at a liberal arts college in New Jersey, is challenged to sponsor an independent study for Melissa Potter. Melissa's goal is to write the definitive paper on intelligent design {and save Andy's soul}.  Melissa is dared to make the request by Simon, a fellow member of Campus Crusade for Christ and one of Andy's 400 level students in his There Is No God class.

Andy has issues.  He still grieves over his wife Louisa's tragic death caused by a drunk driver.  The tragedy impacts his scholarship years later as he's attempting to prove a genetic element to alcoholism which would label it an incurable disease.  Andy's application for a grant from the NSF and possibly his tenure depends upon the success of proving his theory in the lab.  At this point he doesn't want to lose his job and uproot his tween daughters.

I couldn't believe how easily Andy is influenced by Melissa.  She lacks beauty, grace, and sophistication (I include this because he is attracted to her and she's described as being very unattractive).  Yet her arguments are much stronger than Andy's, and Andy stammers and cannot seem to defend his argument around her.  If most of the dialogue had been a Lincoln-Douglas value debate, Melissa would have won easily.  Plus, he doesn't seem to notice very much in his environment aside from women's hair.  How can he not notice that his daughters are outgrowing their clothes and that the oldest one needs a training bra?  He seems easily influenced: one minute he begins to believe in God through Melissa's arguments, and the next minute he waffles as he reads a transcript from his former graduate school mentor at Princeton.  I must admit that I also can't get past his attraction to Melissa and an alcoholic neighbor (especially given his wife's tragic death), but then again maybe it's his obsession with hair.  The limited omniscient narrator doesn't help the reader understand what's truly going on with him.

Some of the lesser themes like appropriate student-teacher relationships (there is a very unrealistic subplot concerning Andy's mentor and a tragedy with one of his female graduate students that ended his academic career), questions about God's nature (mercy v. justice), and forgiveness are better written than the book's central theme.  I found Andy's character unbelievable for most of the book as well as unlikable.  His ability to forgive at the end of the book helps redeem him a little in my eyes.

This book is definitely polarizing and many of the issues in the book are either/or.  I'm a Christian and I do believe in intelligent design, and I also believe the viability of some of Darwin's theories.  I believe that science is a gift from God that allows us to better understand His creation like math explains how His creation is organized.  I also believe that God is just and merciful.  However I did not let my beliefs influence how I reviewed this book.

Please let's not debate these topics in your comments.  I rarely write about controversial issues because that's not the purpose of my blog.  Please only comment on the book review and what you've been reading lately.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. I'm not sure if this book would appeal to me, I would need to browse through it more and see.

  2. I had not heard of this book before your post here, and am not inspired to read it; my TBR stacks are huge anyway. Did you know I am giving away a copy of my co-authored Christmas book on my blog? Just leave a comment to enter to win.

  3. Uh-Oh- You know you are going to bring some "THIS IS MY OPINION" peeps out of the woodwork. LOL. Sounds like a good interesting book. It makes you wonder why Andy was so attracted to her if she was so xo Diana

  4. Personal beliefs aside (and we're polar opposites on some of those, you and I), a book that isn't well written is a book that isn't well written.

    In order to bring any meaning to polarizing ideas in a book, and author has to invest the characters with life, relatable personalities and natures, and meaningful beliefs and tensions. If one character is unrealistic, underdeveloped, weak, hateful, etc from the get-go, then the author has already thrown the dice for their 'hero' character, and instead of creating a debate they're now prosletizing.

    I HATE when authors do this, because at the end I just feel lectured to (and not just religious-based arguments in fiction, but consumer-based, nature-of-man-based, even diet-based/green-based arguments). Thanks for finding this bad egg and alerting us- I have a feeling I'd give up on this one halfway through. :)

  5. Thanks for your comprehensive review, although this sounds interesting I think I will give it a miss.

  6. I love reading your review and chuckled at his obsession with hair! Would a male author have known how to make his protagonist more believable, I wonder?

  7. Hmm, but did you really like it? I'm so curious!

  8. Doesn't sound like a great book. Think I'll skip it xo Laura

  9. This is a great review! I doubt that I would want to put it on my list, but thanks for the comprehensive review and bringing it to my attention.


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.


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