Catherine Lacey was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and has taught Creative Writing at Columbia University in New York. I have reviewed Nobody is Ever Missing here because it is set in New Zealand, and also because it is extraordinary.
Elyria walks out on her seemingly comfortable New York existence and gets on a plane to New Zealand. She has an address a lauded writer gave her once – along with an invitation to come and stay with him on his Golden Bay farm. But it isn’t really towards Werner, the author, she is moving – and oddly she acknowledges there is not that much to be running away from – apart from an odd form of nightmare violence from her husband, and a marriage that has deflated after the passing of the blush of shared grief that first brought Elyria and her husband together.
Elyria’s sister Ruby, a Korean adoptee, has committed suicide: Undoubtedly a pivotal episode in Elyria’s disassociation from life, but not the only cause of her self-absorption. There is a hint of instability about her – but this isn’t a book about mental illness. It is a novel about what it is to exist – about what our basic needs are – other people? love? memory? Elyria hitch-hikes around New Zealand meeting people and echoing back what she suspects they want from her. Her two attempts at fitting in with others in their living spaces, although satisfactory for her, end in her being rejected by the incumbents. She spends nights in bushes and garden sheds; there is a series of her rising early and leaving quickly. Lacey’s writing is meandering:
“The sky was brightening slowly as I walked into Taupo, past a parking lot full of boats, down a high-way just east of the lake, and though I can sometimes think back and romanticize this moment, the sheer morning glow, the cloudless sunrise, I know that all I was really thinking about in that objectively beautiful moment was whether I’d even had a choice when it came to leaving my husband, and whether we are, like Ruby once said we were, just making decisions based on inner systems we have little to no control in creating – and I thought of that professor who became my husband and thought of the sensation that came after he put a hand on my shoulder, a sensation that had turned me more human, put me in contact with what I think I was supposed to be feeling, and how it allowed me to be destroyed by the leaving of Ruby because being occasionally destroyed is, I think, a necessary part of the human experience.”
Despite her discovering the title of the book – no matter where you go there you are – at the end Elyria has almost reached the ‘bliss’ of non-existence: “No one is anything more than a slow event and I knew I was not a woman but a series of movements, not a life, but a shake …” But at this point she says she has ‘nothing to say anymore, not yet …” And so in a way the book is about what happens after it has finished. For Elyria at some point later tells us her story. A thought-provoking and powerful read.