Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: After a bit of time, I’ll probably read this one again just to pore through some of Lacey’s descriptions again.
Reviewed by Indiana
There are days in everyone’s life when we just want to run away from everything. Things can be going along just fine, but suddenly we wake up one day and the daylight is grey and everything is tasteless.
Nobody is Ever Missing is the story of one woman who listened to that need to run, to blow up her domestic life in the most spectacular way she could: run away to New Zealand.
Although it’s Catherine Lacey’s first novel, it reads like Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or Joan Didion’s Play it as it Lays. Elyria, the peripatetic protagonist, is haunted by the suicide of her sister and by her deteriorating relationship with her husband.
Throughout her journey into New Zealand and Europe, Elyria meets a mixed bag of characters, some convincingly motherly and others seem like horror-movie villains (she describes one as “shirtless and had a body that suggested he lived on a cliff and the only way to get home was to climb it”).
But no matter what the situation, Elyria handles it with equal parts brazen bravery and quivering fear.
Yes, it sounds like a moronic description. But throughout the novel, Elyria is constantly grappling with mixed feelings and trying to dig at them until she reaches some conclusive bottom.
During her journey, Elyria goes back and forth between her present “adventures” and her past. Her family is in shambles, with her sister’s suicide, her mother’s drinking problems and with her father off in some distant country doing “cheap boob jobs or something.” When Elyria meets her future husband on the day of her sister’s suicide, she thinks she’s found someone to pull her together after such an enormous loss. But what she thought would piece her together later began to pull her apart.
She tries to abandon her past with her spontaneous trip to New Zealand. However, memories of her husband and her sister seem to pop up in every new road she travels and in the new faces she sees. “I went around hostage to those memories, an invisible person following me with a gun barrel to my back,” Lacey writes.
The writing is captivating and seems wise beyond its years, even if the protagonist sometimes seems naive. Although the plot didn’t feel as tight as the writing, Lacey doesn’t give you a moment to put the book down.
But, of course, this (short) book did come to an end. In my opinion, it was a frustrating ending for good reason. Elyria is battling mixed feelings and the haze of her past throughout the entire book. Why should the conclusion be straightforward or conclusive?
“I think that’s the thing about fiction, that you live in it for a little while but you must forget it, sometimes totally forget it, in order to go on with the rest of your life,” Lacey writes.