Pages//Everything I Never Told You
The cover tells us it’s the “portrait of a family,” and everything in between the watery art and the back summary confirms—Everything I Never Told You is a riveting depiction of family chaos.
It’s Gone Girl meets Woman Warrior, an intersectional look at gender roles, cultural expectations and family dynamics through the lens of tragic, disturbing loss. Your friends on Tumblr will be proud of you for reading a book that treats a familiar trope, somewhat Lifetime-y in terms of substance, with gravitas and incisive critique.
Weaving through backstories and present day, it becomes clear that the overarching theme in Ngo’s narrative is secrets—their liberating, destructive and ironically revelatory power that can render even bonds of blood futile.
The plot’s action stems from the mysterious death of Lydia Lee, a death that drives, but does not dominate the action. (Side note: the novel echoes Camus with it’s crushing opening line: “Lydia is dead.” I consider that exoneration from plot spoiling.) Instead, it unravels the fragile construction of James and Marilyn Lee’s own marriage.
The appellations are no mistake; Ngo wants us thinking of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe as icons of a bygone era—the idealized man and woman of American mythos. We watch as Marilyn and James struggle to self-actualize in the confines of a marriage that challenges their own cultural heritage as a white woman and Asian man raising a family against the background of academia and suburbia.
Beyond a deteriorating marriage, we see the ripples of a lost child impact Nathan and Hannah, Lydia’s younger siblings, who attempt to cope with their own innocence being stolen by tragedy.
Despite the heavy plot line, Ngo’s writing is full of moments to come up for air. There are paragraphs of hard reality next to paragraphs of dreamlike prose, mimicking in a gratifying fashion the cyclical nature of happiness and contentment.
Pairing//2014 Semler Viognier
“Reminiscent of lightly spun gold, with perfumed notes of jasmine, a hint of orange peel and slight minerality. This elegant maiden tempts with succulent flavors of tropical fruit and honeyed apricot, happily ever after.”
The various tones of Celeste Ngo’s writings resist sensory comparison. Her novel is so emotionally engaged that it is tempting to pick something heavy.
But as you navigate the complexities of Ngo’s unexpectedly relatable novel, you will realize that subtleties are what garnered it a New York Times Book Review “Notable Book of the Year” award.
Because of the nuances of Everything I Never Told You, I’m suggesting our 2014 Semler Viognier, made from a grape varietal characterized by its aromatic qualities and “perfumed” flavors. The layers of this wine might not be apparent at the first sip, but with some breath and slow appreciation, you’ll encounter a light richness that will move your palate in quite the same way that Ngo’s novel will move your spirit.
While “happily ever after” is a bit of a stretch for our suggested pages, you’ll be delighted with the beginning, middle and end of every glass.