Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

A woman hitchhikes solo through New Zealand in Catherine Lacey's compelling novel Nobody Is Ever Missing. 

Elyria is missing. She left her husband and her job as a daytime television scriptwriter in New York without saying anything about her plans to anyone. In fact, she had little in the way of plans when she landed in New Zealand. She just needed to get away. Finding out why kept me turning pages, and so did Elyria's busy internal voice.

"He turned the music up, lit another cigarette, and opened a beer as we drove up a mountain, making hairpin turns at unadvisable speeds. My organs let me know how much they disapproved of where I was sitting--I couldn't remember why I had ever wanted to go anywhere at all."

Elyria saw many odd things on her road trip in New Zealand. I did too.
Many of the people who give Elyria a ride warn her about the dangers of hitchhiking. She, however, has more lofty things on her shattered mind.

"Let me say that whoever invented wanting, whoever came up with desire, whoever had the first one and let us all catch it like a hot-pink plague, I would like to tell that person that it wasn't fair of him or her to unleash such a thing upon the world without leaving us a warranty or at the very least an instruction manual about how to manage, how to live with, how to understand this thing that can happen in a person against her will, by which I mean desire and the need it gnaws in us and the shadow it leaves when it's gone."

New Zealand road ornament.
The world through Elyria's filter is mesmerizing and often surreal. I appreciated the grounding I felt during her moments of clarity.

"I walked into the library and the library smelled like every library I'd ever been in and Dewey decimals were on all the spines, same tiny font, tiny numbers, and I thought, for a moment, that there actually were things you could count on in this world until I realized that the most dependable things in the world are not of any significant use to any substantial problems."

There isn't a resolution for Elyria in the end--her problems are substantial--and yet I had seen enough shreds of resourcefulness to have hope for her. Nobody Is Ever Missing is a thought-provoking novel written in a fresh, wry style.

Readalikes with similar humour and themes: The Dept. of Speculation (Jenny Offill) for its exploration of marriage; The First Bad Man (Miranda July) for the mentally troubled main character; and Save Your Own (Elizabeth Brink) for a woman floundering to make sense of her life.

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