Book Review: The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

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4/5 Stars.

“None of us was stupid. We were just dreamers. Caught in the dream of the Lindells and what might have been.”

There are plenty of books about missing teenagers. That’s certainly nothing new. But typically these narratives are focused on unraveling the mystery of what happened. In The Fates Will Find Their Way, Hannah Pittard takes a different approach: What if we never find out? What then?

When 16-year-old Nora Lindell disappears from her cozy Mid-Atlantic town, the boys who knew and adored her are left reeling — caught forever in the gravity of her absence. Without any concrete answers concerning Nora’s fate, they’re unable to ever find closure. Instead, they speculate on what might have happened to Nora, imagining a series of “what ifs” in the decades that follow.

As the boys become men, they marry and buy homes and have children of their own, but there remains a part of them that never grows up, forever lost in the past, grieving for a girl who no longer exists.

Pittard’s narrative style is both clever and befitting: the entire novel is told in first person plural — the tone haunting and ethereal, much like The Virgin Suicides.

This is the first of Pittard’s three novels, and what’s most interesting to me after having read all of them is how distinct they are. Her range and versatility as a novelist is extremely impressive. My biggest complaint with this one is that with so many characters, it became difficult at times to keep track of them all. I can also see some readers finding the ending anti-climactic, though I was satisfied with the resolution.

This complex, character-driven novel offers a fresh take on the common trope of the missing teenager, filled with plenty of Pittard’s signature psychological insights. Often in life we don’t get the catharsis of finding all the answers; The Fates Will Find Their Way is a meditation on this harsh truth.

 

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Book Review: Reunion by Hannah Pittard

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4/5 Stars.

Dysfunctional family stories are nothing new, so for one to stand out, it has to be pretty damn good. Not surprisingly, Hannah Pittard was up to the task.

I read this after reading and loving Listen to Me, and I’m struck by how different it is — it’s funnier, it’s lighter, the plot is more conventional — and yet it still feels very Hannah Pittard. Which is to say, her insights and emotional honesty resonated with me.

Kate Pulaski, the flawed first-person narrator of Reunion, is perhaps one of my favorite protagonists in recent memory. She’s a pathological liar. A cheater. She’s emotionally stunted. She’s financially irresponsible. She even just wet the bed at the age of 34. And yet, she’s so witty and self-aware and brutally candid that I couldn’t help but love her — and it’s not always easy to make a flawed character likable.

Kate’s on the brink of breaking up with her husband when her estranged father commits suicide and she reluctantly flies home to Atlanta for his funeral. The bulk of the novel is Kate dealing with her initial grief alongside her two beloved siblings and her four (yes four) former stepmothers — one of whom is her age.

But Reunion is never exhausting or maudlin in spite of its sad premise. It’s relentlessly funny and amusing, much like a Jonathan Tropper novel or even Garden State minus the mawkishness and the manic pixie dream girl. The feeling that the plot has already been done before is the only thing that knocks this down half a star for me, however the characters are still distinct.

Hannah Pittard is one of those writers who just works for me. When you find one like that, it’s a real treat. I can’t wait to read more of her books.

Book Review: Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard

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4.5/5 Stars.

“It was a matter of luck, life was. You could beg all you wanted for protection, you could pray or not pray to a god or to a devil, but what it all came down to was a simple game of chance.”

This taut little domestic novel about a middle-aged couple on a road trip is so ominous and disquieting that it almost reads like a horror story or a psychological thriller.

Tensions are especially high between Maggie and Mark as they set out for his parent’s house several states away. Months after being violently mugged, Maggie struggles with PTSD and continues to descend into the depths of paranoia and anxiety. Meanwhile, Mark secretly perceives this as weakness, and as he begins losing respect for his wife, finds himself on the cusp of having an affair.

Unfortunately, their road trip is doomed from the start, and it only worsens as a dangerous storm approaches and Maggie and Mark subsequently find themselves lost in rural West Virginia.

There’s a persistent sense of claustrophobia, isolation, paranoia, helplessness and dread that reflects not only the circumstances of their road trip, but their feelings toward each other. Maggie and Mark’s fears and misconceptions are put to the test as they attempt to make it through this ill-fated night.

If you enjoy domestic dramas, Listen to Me is a must-read. Pittard’s writing is full of stunning insights into human behavior and coupledom. Throughout, she maintains an omnipotent third-person voice that further illuminates the banal indifference of a universe in which good and bad things happen by chance, and without any reason at all.