“It’s that moment about two months in…suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion…and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.” Euphoria, pg. 50
“Euphoria” evokes the complexities of the 1930s: a time suspended between two world wars; caught between the past, the present, and the relentless mechanisms propelling us into the future. Anthropology is relatively young and is considered “soft” by many, a belief Andrew Bankson, an anthropologist born into an unapologetically scientific family, struggles to rectify.
When Bankson encounters the enigmatic Stones (a married couple based on Margaret Meade and her first husband) exploring the territory then known as New Guinea, his search for meaning is suddenly turned inward—towards the fire kindled by Nell Stone and her euphoria, her open, questioning heart and complex mind. Bankson unwittingly causes some destruction of his own by revealing the location of a rare, prized and powerful indigenous totem.
This is a slim novel with a wide scope which could be longer (King builds an intricate plot) but doesn’t need to be. Andrew, Nell and Fen are more real to me than their real-life counterparts; their blood, lusts and fears bring this story alive through King’s luscious writing. Bankson’s character, his curiosity warring with his morals and upbringing, capture the emotions of an era: young people caught between the Great War and Depression, and an uncertain future—both excited and wary, eager to embrace the new yet reluctant to step away completely from a broken system. Nell, with her passion and temper, her beauty and hunger, reminds me of Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly—she is a wild thing, too wild to be loved, and must be set free. This is an homage to a wonderful anthropological mind, a fantastic adventure story, a tale of love and, ultimately, of euphoria.
Winner of the 2013 Kirkus Award for fiction