Critical Assessment

“It’s the rare novel of ideas that devours its readers’ attention. More often . . . we work our way through these books carefully and with frequent pauses, rather than gulping them down in long, thirsty drafts. It’s not a literary form known for its great romances, either, although of course love and sex play a role in most fictional characters’ lives. Lily King’s ‘Euphoria,’ a shortish novel based on a period in the life of pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead, is an exception. At its center is a romantic triangle, and it tells a story that begs to be consumed in one or two luxurious binges. . . .

“King is a sinewy, disciplined writer who wisely avoids the temptation to evoke the overwhelming physicality of the jungle (the heat, the steam, the bugs) by generating correspondingly lush thickets of language. Her story . . . sticks close to the interlocking bonds that give the novel its tensile power.”

Laura Miller, “‘Euphoria’: Primitive Love, Salon, June 1, 2014.

First Excerpt

“Sometimes at night it seemed to me that my boat was not being pushed by the engine but that boat and engine both were being pulled by the river itself, the ripples of wake just a design, like a stage set moving along with us.

“‘Sometimes I wish I’d gone to sea,’ I said, perhaps simply for the luxury of being able to speak a passing thought aloud to someone who would understand what I meant.

“‘Do you? Why’s that?’

“‘I think I’m better on water than land. Better in my skin, as the French say.’

“‘The ship captains I’ve met are tossers.’

“‘It would be nice to do a job that wasn’t a big invisible knot to untangle, wouldn’t it?’

“He didn’t answer, but I wasn’t bothered. I was flattered that we’d gotten to this stage already, that our minds could wander without apology. We passed through a long swath of fireflies, thousands of them flashing all around us, and it felt like soaring through stars.”

Euphoria by Lily King coverSecond Excerpt

“My mind has circled back again to that conversation with Helen on the steps of Schermerhorn about how each culture has a flavor. What she said that night comes back to me at least once a day. Have I ever said anything to anyone that has come back once a day for 8 years? She had just returned from the Zunis and I had never been anywhere and she was trying to tell me that nothing we’re taught will help us to identify or qualify that unique flavor that we need most to absorb and capture on the page. She seemed so old to me then – 36 she would have been – and I thought it would take me twenty years to learn what she meant but I knew it as soon as I got to the Solomons. And now I am engulfed in this new flavor, so different from the light but humorless flavor of the Anapa and the thick bitter taste of the Mumbanyo, this rich deep resonant complex flavor that I am only getting my first sips of and yet how do I explain these differences to an average American who will take one look at the photographs and see black men & women with bones through their noses and lump them in a pile marked Savages?”