Contemporary Mississippi Authors #2: Catherine Lacey

This comparison may be gauche, but it’s hard to read Catherine Lacey’s  novel, Nobody Is Ever Missing, without Gone Girl coming to mind. The basic premise is identical (wife suddenly leaves husband without word), but Nobody Is Ever Missing has two distinct (redeeming) differences: 1) Lacey’s main character, Elyria, is not a homicidal psychopath; 2) her husband does not accept her back in a torrid commiseration of their mutual insanity.

 

nobody is ever missingLike Amy and Nick of Gone Girl, Elyria was a writer in New York City. Unlike Amy and Nick, she did not lose her job because she was easily replaced by unpaid bloggers. She simply woke up in her Columbia Faculty apartment, left her Columbia Professor husband in bed, and got on the next flight to New Zealand.

 

However, this small amount information is gleamed after a few hundred pages. Other than her departure from New York and her arrival in New Zealand, we know little about the life Elyria has left behind until she wakes up in a hospital after a near death experience with a stingray. Sitting by her bedside is a government psychiatrist who reveals her husband’s name, her former job, and that she is competent enough to complete a simple logic problem. Regardless of having hitchhiked for months, slept in public parks, peed in jars, abandoned an overly affable transvestite, she’s deemed a non-safety hazard and is deported back to her husband who refuses to ever see her again.

 

The plot is very simple – there and back (to ever growing misery ). The prose is what counts. Here are two passages that show off the key elements of her style:

But this little policeman was less amused by my by-myself-ness and he just asked for my passport and he looked at it and me and said I shouldn’t sleep in public–it’s not safe–and I thought he was deeply concerned, that he cared deeply and loved all of humanity, this cop, but that probably wasn’t true and I wondered why some people combinations create inaudible noises and others don’t and the cop walked away like I was nothing, nothing at all, just some harmless, lost small animal with a passport (146). 

I stayed in that park until the sun went down and then I stayed longer. I found a bench not near a streetlight and did something like sleep for some hours. In the middle of the night I found a jar in a trash bin and I pissed in it and then I placed the jar back in the trash bin and I know that may seem a little ridiculous, but I thought it gave sleeping in a park just a shred of dignity if I didn’t pee right into the dirt like an animal, that if I could contain my own waste then I was somehow a person on an adventure, not a person with limited options and limited means, possibly dwindling sanity.

In the morning, there were birds. There were birds here just like there are birds anywhere (155).

 

When the passion runs high, the sentence runs long, real long, so long that you hardly notice the need for any punctuation, not that it really matters, considering Lacey writes in simple syntactic units that could continue on and on until the sentence has captured the moment so fully that there’s need for another one and she begins a new one afresh, one that is usually shorter to underscore the shift of her thought through the rhythm of the syntax. The style is effective.

 

Also, another key element of style is made up jargon words like “by-myself-ness” which could be replaced by the existing word ’solitude’. The jargon clouds simple and relatable experiences. In this instance, ‘solitude’ becomes a pseudo critical theory term that she uses to analyze her life as though shedding new light on her existence – so special it requires its own term. Jargon validates Elyria’s sense of alienation, her perverse solitude wandering the parks and back yard sheds of New Zealand.

 

This all may sound bleak, but Lacey’s Elyria plays into the missing woman genre and parodies books like Gone Girl. Elyria’s misery comes off as darkly ironic; she’s just another crazy missing woman. However, this humor is shadowed by a more serious question: how did this become funny?

Here’s a great article on the novel by the author: http://www.buzzfeed.com/catherinelacey/birth-more-of-ourselves#.id0NoQEYY

Lacey.

Catherine Lacey was born in Tupelo, MS. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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