Saturday, October 1, 2016

Anthropologically anthropologic: Euphoria, by Lily King

Lily King
Grove Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0802123701

Every now and then, I read a book that makes me sigh, “DAMN, that was gooooood.” While these books can run the gamut from totally fluffy books (you guys know by now I’m a sucker for a time traveling/historical/brooding/cooking/horseback/saga/survival romance), generally this type of sigh is saved for the kind of book that hits all the (other) right notes: compelling characters, intriguing plot, balanced highs and lows in pace and plot, language that raises the story off the page and creates strong visual imagery, and, usually, a certain je ne se quois, which is one of the approximately five things I can say confidently in French. Euphoria has that all, and boy howdy did I let out a major sigh of “DAMN,” when I finished. Not only did I get the requisite good book hangover after finishing Euphoria, but the story, plot, and writing have stayed with me since.

As you also well know, I’m a shameless coverjudger, and Euphoria’s colorful book-dress fell into my vain horizon. It’s like a melted Rothko! I will note that I do have some standards, I have no standards, because you know I’ll totally read anything. I’m looking at you, terrible Mermen book that made me laugh so hard this summer when Amazon recommended it that I had to read it. I digress though, because Euphoria is definitely not a case of the terribles, and what I mean to say is that the publisher flab on the classy, colorful jacket was what really put this at the top of my endless pile o’books to read.

Euphoria is the story of three anthropologists when the field was still in diapers, all of whom are studying tribes along in New Guinea. A less than comfortable study of a tribe prompts American Nell Stone and her Aussie husband Finn to cut their losses and brings them up river on their planned exit from New Guinea, straight into the path of Andrew Bankson. Bankson, an Englishman, is desperately lonely and isolated, and finds himself enraptured by the Stones, especially Nell. Intoxicated by the idea of having like minded individuals nearby, he makes good on his promise to find them a less aggressive and more welcoming tribe. Their presence gives him new purpose, and soon the three are entangled in a web of their own alliances, emotions, anthropological studies, pride, jealousies, and secrets that will be their undoing. Inspired by the life of Margaret Mead, this is a nuanced, scintillating, and marvelously written novel.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what stands out about this book in my mind. I still find myself going back to King’s masterful narrative, and the way she deftly turned this novel about anthropologists into an anthropological examination of her own characters. I know, right? It’s totally meta. At times light, at times crushing, and at times as confusing as understanding others cultures can be, this is a strong recommendation for older teens and adults. In addition to complexity in language and plot, as well as adult themes like the question of studying other humans/yourself, there is some violence and sexuality, and some really excellent description of what horrible things the jungle can do to the human body (which will haunt you should you choose to take to the Googles, which you know you totally want to do). The parasites and I implore you: read this book!


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Facinating much! I might add this to my reading list as you have mentioned so many amazing things about it or anyone who is a reading freak might start after reading yoir overwhelming review of this book.

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