“The first time Andy met Louisa, she was covered in blood.” So begins The Explanation For Everything, the engrossing and sometimes frustrating third novel from Lauren Grodstein. The opening sentence is actually the beginning of a strangely adorable meet-cute in an emergency room, but by the end of the first chapter, Louisa is again covered in blood, killed in a drunk-driving accident, leaving Andy and their two young daughters behind.
The rest of the novel picks up 12 years later, following Andy through a school year at Exton Reed college, where he is a professor of evolutionary biology. He teaches a class nicknamed “There Is No God” and grows increasingly frustrated when his research into the genetics of alcoholism seem less and less likely to earn him tenure. Andy simultaneously goes through a crisis of faith and a midlife crisis, triggered by two of his students: Lionel and Melissa, Campus Crusade for Christ evangelicals who are determined to convert Andy from his professional atheism.
Andy is often unsympathetic, and I wish Grodstein had more fully explored the motivations of her female supporting characters. Likewise, everything is wrapped up a little too neatly in the end with a time-jump epilogue. Still, you’ll likely close the book with a new perspective on faith, justice, mercy, and the difficulty of holding a moral high ground.
–erika w. smith