Insidious, that’s my one word summary for Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing, ‘proceeding in a gradual, subtle way’ confirms the dictionary, ‘but with very harmful effects’. Like insomnia. I finished Nobody is Ever Missing forty-eight hours ago unsure whether I enjoyed reading Lacey’s story. Sometimes that happens and a few hours later I’ve forgotten a story, other times it won’t leave me. It encroaches on my thoughts like a screwworm, burrowing deeply.
There are many ways in which Nobody is Ever Missing could be different, even better. For the first forty pages I was going to abandon the book, leave it on my commuter train for someone else to give a fuck. The following paragraph was almost the moment to quit:
She pulled over in front of a café with a sign that said THE INTERNET. I got out of the car and the old lady said, Good luck, take care, and I didn’t know what I was going to spend any good luck on or what I could care for, but I said, Thank you, because that’s what you do
That’s the cutesy note that puts me off a shedload of American literature, normally time to give up, but something of Lacey’s voice kept me reading. The deftness of narrative control whilst depicting the inchoate narrator’s chaotic inner monologue is thrilling and really smart. The way that Lacey handles the passage between monologue and narrative creates a fluidity that sustains the compulsion to read on. There’s also a lightness of touch that situates the story almost, but not quite, on the razor edge of comedy , awaiting a turn to the comic, but the turn never comes. Instead it spirals into deepening notes of darkness, but without losing its place on that razor’s edge.
Forty-eight hours later Lacey’s story is still playing on my mind. The ending is brilliant. It doesn’t allow you to leave the story behind. I don’t know if I enjoyed the book, but I want to read more of Lacey’s work. As a début, it is staggeringly good.
Hm, I’m very aware of what you describe as that cutesy note so common to contemporary US literature, and frankly it’s why I read so very little of it. I think the US has hit a bit of a literary cul-de-sac at the moment, which I’m sure it’ll come out of as it has produced great stuff in the past (and of course still is, just less of it right now). It’s the knowing quality of creative writing trained literature.
In that quote for example, I flatly don’t believe she’d have that “good luck, take care” thought. It’s an author’s thought inserted into a character, it’s not true.
And yet, despite that you’re still impressed, which is interesting. It must have been good.
Lacey writes beautifully, which to some extent overcomes the novel’s significant flaws, but I give credit for the excellent conclusion to the story. Good endings are so very rare.
I agree about contemporary American literature, to which I pay very little attention. But I don’t ignore it completely as from time to time jewels emerge like Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation which was rightly on so many end of year lists; Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams is outstanding; I’m still recalling parts of Rachel Kushner’s Flamethrowers 15 months after reading, and have huge love for Kate Zambreno’s writing. Some of these writers are products of that MFA/creative writing route yet seem strong enough to rise above the cookie-cutter novels that usually emerge from that training.