An “Everything” Hypothesis

“Later–when things happened that they could never have imagined–she wrote him a letter that said: When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?”

Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

When I first contemplated this post, I wanted to call it “a theory of everything,” then remembered that I am no physicist, nor have I seen that movie starring Eddie Redmayne– even though “starring Eddie Redmayne” is one of the only things that will entice me to see a movie in theaters. (Is The Danish Girl on Netflix yet? Will investigate.)

But as much as I love talking/thinking/daydreaming about Eddie Redmayne, he has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

Instead, I want to talk about Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. I read both novels, which had been on my list for quite some time, in quick succession. I’m a sucker for titles that contain “everything.” Slap an “everything” on either end of a title, and it’s on my “want to read” list.

There are many other examples of books with “everything” in the title. Everything Is Illuminated; Everything, Everything; Glory over Everything; The Beginning of Everything. Thanks to my recent reads, I was looking for a pattern, and one seemed to fit, if not exactly, then well enough. A disproportionate amount of these titles featured young protagonists (two of these six titles are young adult, but there are more young adult titles with “everything” in them, which I think is related to this).

The End of Everything and Everything I Never Told You, though, are not young adult fiction; they are adult literary fiction, both with a crime or mystery element. Megan Abbott is the writer’s writer of noir/crime fiction; Everything I Never Told You unravels the mysterious death of a family’s golden child.

The End of Everything is narrated by thirteen-year-old Lizzie, who has started to grow apart from her childhood best friend, Evie. They do so in the clumsy, tentative way that I think all teenagers do, one friend holding on too tightly to the other. Lizzie loves Evie’s family– her warm father; her sister Dusty, the beautiful apple of their father’s eye– and she feels something like one of them. But then Evie goes missing, the only clue a car, and Lizzie finds herself combing through Evie’s life, looking for clues and unable to fit the pieces– those she finds and those she thought she knew about Evie– together.

Megan Abbott is a master at depicting the inner lives of teenage girls. And, more remarkably, she does so in the adult fiction realm. Not all of her books are narrated by teenagers, and there is a certain element of looking back to The End of Everything that frames the narrative in an adult way, but she mines that territory in a way that feels fresh. She also does atmosphere extremely well, a feeling that something is not quite right below the surface, but you can’t put your finger on what. My rule with great suspense is that I should never definitively know the perpetrator until the end. I love books that keep me on my toes, that make me doubt my instincts to the point of frustration.

Everything I Never Told You begins with one of my favorite first lines in recent memory. “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” it reads. The novel follows the Lee family. They are Chinese-American– a Chinese father and a white mother with three children. Sixteen-year-old Lydia, the middle and favorite child, drowns in the lake nearby as her control on her life began to crumble. The parents have their own secrets, their own wounds that haven’t quite healed. Her brother Nath is heading off to college, having drifted apart from Lydia recently; Hannah, the youngest child, observes, knowing that she will always be second to Lydia.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the book, because that’s part of the fun of reading it, seeing how one choice influences another, how they come back to haunt when the characters believe they’ve moved on. The novel is heartbreaking and surprising and beautiful. I have been shoving it into the hands of everyone I know recently. Read this, I urge. It’s the last thing that blew me away. I had wanted to read it for ages, ever since Amazon named it the best book of 2014, which is what helped propel the book onto bestseller lists.

In both of these books, “everything” is uniquely an adolescent’s territory. It is a life laid before them like a treasure map, a “you are here” marking their location, wondering how to get from that point to the “X.” At some point, that seems like too much. “Everything” means a kind of longing to have all your desires all at once, that fear that they will slip away. “Everything” is a life before we’ve made all our choices, when three or five or twelve paths present themselves to us, and we have to choose one. Our lives both narrow and broaden as we get older. The choices we make force a narrower world; you major in something in college, you get a job in your field, which leads to another job, that makes switching careers that much more difficult. But our lives broaden in the sense that we get to make those decisions; in an ideal world, no one forces our hand.

Adolescence is the time when you can still believe in the possibility of having everything. It’s the time of wanting everything without knowing how to obtain it. To my ear, everything is the language of longing.

If you do pick one or both of these books up, please let me know below!

Happy Reading!


Sunday, September 25

Good morning!


Here are my books: On Beauty by Zadie Smith and The Fever by Megan Abbott (not pictured)

Here is my breakfast: Trader Joe’s steel cut oatmeal (the best) and Starbucks Pike Place roast

Come join me at the table:

This evening I’m headed to the Gilmore Girls Book Club at Word Bookstore in Greenpoint. We’re discussing On Beauty today. I bought it a month ago and should have made more progress, but I was lulled into a false sense of security believing I had all the time in the world to read it. Note to self: a month is not all the time in the world.

On Wednesday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera Young Associates kickoff party with my friend Ollie. It’s always a great time. We listened to one of the young artist program singers, had drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the terrace, and strolled around the Grand Tier.

I’ll spend this week prepping for my Breakfast at Tiffany’s party, which I’m holding for the first time in four years. More on that next weekend.

Wishing you a wonderful Sunday!


Welcome to the Table: Sunday, September 18

Good morning!


Here are my books: When in French by Lauren Collins, A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston, You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein, and On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Here is my breakfast: croissant and cappuccino from Shakespeare & Co.

Come join me at the table:

This weekend I have an uncharacteristically long TBR (to be read) pile. I rarely read more than one book at a time. I like focus, and I am a fairly obsessive reader, meaning that once I get into a book, I tend not to put it down until I’ve finished. But this week I have dabbled. I have another recreational book on my iPad, along with a dozen submissions queued up to read. I’ll be lucky if I finish two (already half read) books.

Let’s start with the most exciting news of the week. After nine months of scaffolding and construction, my apartment terrace is finally finished. I could hardly wait to relocate my patio furniture and find my way outside every night after work. With the temperatures cooling in New York, the terrace will be perfect for fall.


The view directly across the way

My friends Bri and Kate were staying with me last weekend. Bri left Tuesday, and we celebrated her last night in town with dinner at my neighborhood favorite, Eats. We had burgers (their steak burger is the best in the city) and drinks. We came back to my apartment, and Bri helped me create this blog (Hi, Bri! Thank you!).

Last night (Friday), I strolled around the Feast of San Gennaro festival in Little Italy with my friend Yuliya. After snacking on cannoli, we left the crowds behind for dinner at an old favorite, Bar Primi. And by “dinner,” I do mean two sangrias, one burrata appetizer, and one tiramisu between us.

Today I plan to run some errands (groceries, outdoor plants, apartment cleaning), then watch Stanford football take on USC, either here at my apartment or downtown at Finnerty’s. Go Card!

Wishing you a wonderful Sunday!