Book Review: The Answers by Catherine Lacey

4.5/5 Stars.

Wow, I loved this book. I knew from the opening page that I would. Sometimes you find writers who seem to get you or speak to you on a level that just makes sense, and that’s how I feel about Catherine Lacey. The Answers is my ideal kind of novel: quirky, witty, intellectually stimulating and deeply character-driven—yet there’s still an actual plot carrying it forward.

Is it possible to achieve a prolonged state of limerence—the physiological and psychological stage of a body as it falls in love? Does there exist a person who will meet one’s every needs? Is there such thing as a perfect relationship? Mary Parsons has been selected to participate in an experiment that seeks to answer these questions. She—along with several other women—will each play a separate girlfriend role for the wealthy actor funding the experiment. And Mary’s role is arguably most important of all: Emotional Girlfriend.

For Mary, whose life is in a state of stagnant listlessness as she falls further into debt paying for strange new methods to treat her chronic pain condition, the Girlfriend Experiment (as its aptly named) is an opportunity to make some easy money. The irony of it all is that Mary is actually a rather emotionally detached person, and most of the novel is spent inside her analytical mind.

The Answers could have easily become trite, as many novels that explore the issue of love inevitably do, but in Lacey’s capable hands, this one transcends the predictable cliches. It implores readers to question more than just the how of making love last, but the very reasons why we seek romantic connections in the first place—and what that might tell us about who we are.

We may never be able to completely know another person, but we’ll always have ourselves. If we can learn to be okay with that, and if we’re willing to accept the uncertainty of human relationships and the gaps and distances that will always exist between two people, maybe we’ll come to find that that’s enough.

Fans of Miranda July, Alexandra Kleeman and Lydia Millet will likely enjoy this one as much as I did.

Book Review: Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

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4/5 Stars.

I’ve never read Eat, Pray, Love (and have no desire to), but I get the feeling this book is sort of the antithesis of it and other feel-good books about women finding themselves.

Without telling anyone, Elyria abruptly leaves her husband and her normal Manhattan life behind, traveling across the world to New Zealand to escape and isolate herself from the monotony and melancholy she has grown to resent, as well as her unresolved grief following her sister’s suicide.

In New Zealand, she engages in a series of reckless behaviors: hitchhiking with strangers, sleeping in abandoned sheds in the middle of nowhere, and ultimately landing herself under psychiatric evaluation.

Consumed by feelings of dread, anxiety and apathy, Elyria self-consciously exposes the darkness that lies deep inside of her, meditating on her own innate wildness. There’s this sense throughout that she wants to want the decent, normal life from which she has estranged herself, but knows ultimately the futility of this. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all though is seeing her come to terms with the fact that no matter how far she slips away from her old life, she will never escape herself.

Told in first-person stream-of-consciousness prose, Nobody Is Ever Missing is a haunting, surreal portrait of a woman in the midst of a personal crisis. Lacey’s writing is lyrical and poetic; I found myself dog-earring multiple breathtaking passages and lingering on her stunning, powerful writing.