My Review of Lauren Grodstein’s The Explanation for Everything


“He had barely started reading the Lewis but already he’d found something he liked: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

Set in a small New Jersey college town, Lauren Grodstein’s newest work The Explanation for Everything explores the tension, the hopes, the fears, of those who are grieving and those who are seeking.

The story revolves around a small college biology professor, Andy Waite, a widower and father of two younger girls, and the relationship he develops with one of his students, Melissa Potter, a transfer student who seeks Waite’s help with an independent study. But Waite is an avowed evolutionist and Potter, an evangelical who believes in intelligent design.

But the relationship between the two takes an unexpected turn as Potter’s increasing presence in Waite’s professional and personal life creates an inner climate change in Waite’s heart regarding the possibility of faith, the unresolved grief of his wife’s death, the anger he holds toward the drunk driver, a former neighbor, who killed his wife, and the loneliness that he has kept at bay since her death. The result is a well written maelstrom of emotions – pain, love, lust, anger, fear, grief- along with two people holding two strongly opposite views, as they navigate the intellectual, spiritual, and personal  potholes and issues in their own lives.

Alongside this main relationship are several others – Waite and Oliver McGee, the man who killed Waite’s wife; Waite and his two daughters, Rachel and Belle; Waite and his neighbor, Sheila Humphreys; Waite and student Lionel Shell with whom he spars intellectually yet seeks to help when it becomes necessary; and Waite and his mentor, the brilliant and controversial Hank Rosenblum, told in flashback segments – which are woven into the story that parallel the main story and its themes about human need, human hope, and the reason for living in the first place.

The Explanation for Everything does not resort to a simplistic formula in which every loose end in the story is neatly tied together in a ‘happily ever after’ package. Rather it is a gritty, and at times unsettling, journey filled with humanity who are seeking truth as Waite does in his alcoholic mice experiments to understand the death of his wife from an alcohol related accident. The result is a book that addresses one of the biggest issues in our time – the origins of the universe – against the backdrop of the human need for love and meaning while navigating a world of grief, pain, unanswered questions – intellectual, scientific, and spiritual – and the challenge of faith and trust.

I liked this book for the very human characters and the willingness to address the conflict raised between evolution and intelligent design in a manner in which the humanity of both sides is respected while also opening the door to the possibility of faith against the backdrop of doubt, grief, loss, and hope.

I rate this book a ‘great’ read.

Note: I received a copy of this book via the Amazon vine review program in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.


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