A family epic of a generation coming of age in a time of cultural upheaval
"Who knows if there's a God? There's us, now, and caterpillars and other insects and mulch."
So thinks Stephen Wirth as he watches his marriage collapse. Between bouts of alcoholism and half-hearted attempts to restore a ragtag collection of dilapidated boats, Stephen does his best to help himself and his daughters cope with their mother's love for another woman. But with Stephen only intermittently able to provide emotional guidance, growing up and making sense of the world is something the girls must do on their own, just as for their mother there is no easy way around beginning a new life.
Set on coastal Long Island, The Agnostics follows the Wirths through several decades as they redefine themselves and their idea of family. Painting with a fine and delicate brush, Wendy Rawlings reveals her characters' lives as a series of discrete moments, illuminating the intimate story of one American middle-class family. Yet the novel is also the story of a generation coming of age at a time of profound social and political transformation—working to find a place for itself in the world and searching for something to believe in.
Cover photo © Peter Roome
"Full of drama large and small, packed to the rafters with intelligent observation, and memorably thoughtful, The Agnostics is a consistent pleasure. Funny, lively, knowing and generous, Rawlings moves effortlessly from the minute negotiations of family existence to the big, often neglected questions that haunt and enrich our lives from beginning to end."
—Michael Byers, judge, Michigan Literary Fiction Awards
"Already an accomplished stylist, Rawlings has given us a first novel that is at once delicate and intense. The characters are so finely engraved and their passions so recognizable, the river of their daily lives runs so broad and deep, in the end we feel not that we have merely read about them but that we have lived with them, side by side. A poignant, exquisitely focused book."
—Sigrid Nunez, author of For Rouenna, A Feather On the Breath of God, and The Last of Her Kind
"The Agnostics is funny, incisive, rich with detail, a portrait of the confusion and indecisiveness and joie de vivre of the latter part of the twentieth century. The novel is full-bodied, beautifully written, with wisdom that breaks your heart and fine moments of connection. I couldn't put it down."
—Patricia Henley, author of In the River Sweet and Hummingbird House
"Rawlings writes with vivid sensuousness and a palpable sense of purpose in throwing curveballs at her familiar characters. The result is a probing investigation into the unbearable lovelessness of modern life, and an attendant search for certainty."
"Rawlings recreates the world of baby boomers movingly; at the end of the book we find ourselves where we are: here, entering a new century, and here, sticky with the dilemmas we've carried over from the last one . . . . The Agnostics worthily proves that it takes many kinds of faith to sustain us."
". . . [an] emotionally moving family drama . . ."