Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Saturday, July 25, 2015


I had just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed—a book that made me laugh, weep, and write earnestly into the night. Next I mused over In Some Other World, Maybe, a smart, very trendy, and ultimately memorable novel by Shari Goldhagen. I was having a blast. These women writers were feeding my summertime soul, and I wanted more. I wanted something fresh, something that would make me think, but not too hard. It is summer, after all.

Euphoria, Lily King's newest, had been sitting on the kitchen table for about two months. Before Wild and In Some Other World, I'd gone through a reading drought, so to speak. Do you ever have those? All through a hectic semester and a month-long road trip across the country, library books languished on my kitchen table. I unwound with LL Bean catalogs, Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine, and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. Some choices we just can't explain.

In any case, finally. The moonsoons had arrived, bringing to a blessed close my reading drought. I poured a glass of wine and took Euphoria outside. For a moment, I watched the setting sun and inhaled hot pinion.

Then I opened the book, and almost immediately my world fell away, replaced swiftly and fully with King's. Euphoria was a different animal than anything I'd recently read, and I understood immediately that King writes at a whole other level than most. Above being a storyteller, she is a sort of research-artist, a painter whose pigments include facts, dates, and theories. She is a setter of well-researched scenes and well-considered characters. She is a master of point of view, structure, and restraint. An hour and a half later, my full glass of wine had some flies in it. The sun had set, and I realized I was cold.

I warn you, fellow writers: in King's presence you'll be humbled, whoever you are.

Of King's fourth novel, Emily Eakin of the NYTimes writes, "[Euphoria] is rife with such visceral imagery and pungent with the stink of disease, foul breath and unwashed bodies." Eakin adds that "The threat of violence and death looms from Page 1." The review closes with this: "In King’s exquisite book, desire — for knowledge, fame, another person — is only fleetingly rewarded, and gratification is inseparable from self-­deceit."

Ms. Eakin, I must politely disagree with it all. Well, all except the exquisite. Euphoria is certainly filled with visceral stink and foul breath and the threat of violence, but this after all is a book about white anthropologists traveling the Sepik River in New Guinea in 1933. What did Ms. Eakin expect? In her vaguely coy (but ever stylish) review, she overlooks what really roots the reader to Euphoria: the book's humanity. A sustained, dynamic current of sensuality and desire runs beneath the whole story, connecting each character and scene. This is the Copula Spider Doug Glover was talking about: bodies, sweat, pain, want, over and over again. Desire may be fleetingly rewarded for the characters, as Eakin claims, but for the reader the effects endure.

Speaking of want, it's immediately clear in Euphoria what every character wants. I've heard this is something you're supposed to do in fiction: understand what your protagonist wants most in the world, and tell your reader. In Euphoria, one character wants more than anything to learn. Another wants a place to call his own, and a woman to join him there. A third wants—well, I guess there is one character whose desires are less clear. Maybe he wants to forget. Maybe he wants never to leave the Sepik River.

It's all in the book, my lovelies, it's all in the book, so best not miss out on this lush work of art. King will take you to a place you've never been, a muggy, buggy place you won't want to leave. Weird, I know, but just trust me on this one. Euphoria looks short, like maybe you'll finish it in one night, but I assure you, dear reader, you will not.


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  2. This book was so delicious, once I finished it I wanted to turn around and read it all over again, to pick up any crumbs I had missed the first time. Wonderful story.

    Must see Noblesville Roofing