I read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng just before its match in The Morning News Tournament of Books. I’d read great things about it, and was looking forward to it. It opens with the arresting sentence:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

which put me immediately in mind of another famous first novel about a dead girl, The Lovely Bones. Like that book, this one is about how the family deals with the aftermath, and what they do and don’t know. As you can tell from the title, it’s about what isn’t said, and it was frustrating as this conflict escalated because of the number of times a characters almost said something, or thought about hugging someone and didn’t. That wasn’t what made me want to put the book down, though. It was the author’s decision to use an omniscient narrator, and how too often, that narrator intruded. Here, the father has just read the autopsy report. He’s a historian, so he isn’t the one who flowers up the prose, that’s the narrator, who distracted me here:

He learns the color and size of each of her organs, the weight of her brain. That a white foam had bubbled up through her trachea and covered her nostrils and mouth like a lace handkerchief. That her alveoli held a thin layer of silt as fine as sugar. (p. 69)

What I appreciated about the book, though, kept me going and I’m glad I did. I liked this insight into racially mixed family in the 70’s and the silent and not-so racism they endured on a regular basis. I also appreciated the dilemma of the mother, trapped by ongoing pregnancies in a pre-pill era into abandoning her plans to be a doctor.

And in the end, when the family does start talking and hugging, it was all the more satisfying for all the lack that went before.

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