A Divorce from Everything in a Debut Novel

Nobody is Ever Missing, the debut novel of Catherine Lacey (published in McSweeny’s, Believer, The Atlantic, 52 Stories, and The Paris Review), is written in the stream of consciousness of Elyria Riley.  Elyria is a not-quite middle aged woman who suffers from depression and general feelings of disconnectedness.  Its sprawling sentences relate her split decision to leave her husband and upper-class lifestyle for New Zealand.  Here she is planning to accept an invitation to stay with a man who she met once who she knows never expected her to show up.  On her journey there, she is haunted by a wildebeest in her heart that keeps her from staying in once place too long, a hallucination of her husband, and the memories of her adopted sister who committed suicide the year before.

“I knew that the inaudible noise was gone and I knew I wasn’t part of the kind of people that can eat a clown’s gruel and the wildebeest was throwing its weight around in me and I was trying not to get too beat up by the wildebeest.” 150

To get to the farm where her not-quite-an-invitation was for, she hitchhikes.  She wants to be completely gone from her past life.  She doesn’t use cards except for emergencies (these are eventually shut off by her husband who tells her she can come back when she is ready to be his wife again, she belongs to him).  The strangers she meets while she hitches bring out wisps of violence and loneliness in her internal thoughts.  This is where much of the story takes place.  Dialogue is formatted in italics without punctuation, making the real world seem more dreamlike than her thoughts of her sister and husband.

It will be better this way, if we just don’t speak until you can tell me you’re coming home.

            The calmness in his voice wasn’t at all convincing, and after I hung up the phone I imagined my husband told me he’d convinced the people in charge of the study to give him the information they’d gotten from me – the pictures of my brain, my answers, my data – and I imagined my husband saying this as if he was announcing a job promotion or that he had unexpectedly won a portion of a class-action lawsuit and as I walked back to Dillon’s house I wondered if maybe I hadn’t imagined my husband telling me this but maybe he’d really said it, really done it, and even though I understood why my husband might go to such anxious lengths to find out what, specifically, was wrong with me, this wasn’t a nice thing to hear or imagine hearing, and the little throbbing anger under everything my husband had said reminded me of how unfair feelings could be, of how our feelings had hunched up and backed away from us, left us looking at each other like strangers.” 74

Sporadic e-mails from her husband received at New Zealand internet cafes only make Elyria more prone to holding repeated or made-up conversations with him.  And in everyone she sees pieces of her sister.  After hitching to her plan A, she discovers that she needs to be near people but can’t actually connect with them.  Her host asks her to leave after several months.  Again she heads out and rips off stubs of paper with telephone numbers to farms who need help.  Even when she is surrounded by people, she is alone.

You know, we’re trying to create a full community here – this is important to us. And we can respect your privacy, you know, I get that, but we really do need you to participate in our ecosystem, Elyria.  Can you do that?

And I didn’t say anything for a moment and Amos was doing this look my husband used to do sometimes, this look that was a cross between pity and doing long division in his head, so I mirrored that long-division-pity back at him and Amos finally said, Do you think you can be a part of our ecosystem?” 178

The sense of loss and the sense of being lost are the most relateable feelings conveyed in the novel.  Elyria’s story is a series of encounters that leave her ever more aware of her own neurosis and impossible desires to have nothing and everything.  Lacey’s sentences wander around to find truths just as her character wanders to find them for us.  The jaded perceptiveness of Elyria universalizes doubts about love and loss in a way that is neither sentimental nor heartless.  She figures out that her journey is pointless, that she can never escape herself.  While this might make some wonder, “Doesn’t that mean this novel is pointless?” we, too, needed the time to figure that out with her.

“I would never, no matter what I did, be missing to myself and that was what I had wanted all this time, to go fully missing, but I would never be able to go fully missing – nobody is missing like that, no one has ever had that luxury and no one ever will.” 182

Nobody is Ever Missing

Catherine Lacey

244 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: $14

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