Catherine Lacey is a writer who came to New York by way of Tupelo, Mississippi. She is a New York Foundation of the Arts grant recipient, a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and a Granta New Voice. Lacey broke from the peloton last year with her debut novel, Nobody is Ever Missing (Granta). Her work struck me immediately for its synthesis of two qualities of prose which often exclude one another: distinctive voice and rich imagery.
Nobody is Ever Missing follows Elyria from a stable but stagnant marriage to the wide-open possibilities of New Zealand. As Elyria hitchhikes through the countryside, with only a scrap of a plan, she turns and returns memories of a lost stepsister and an absent husband. The more Elyria travels, the more she struggles with the impossibility of running from yourself, calling this feeling her ‘wildebeest’. All this roiling introspection might have been too much in another writer’s hands. But Catherine Lacey invigorates self-examination with prose that is alive and electric. It’s the bright bristling reality of Elly’s world that makes Nobody is Ever Missing so significant.
The novel teems with metaphor and metonymy—images do the work in progressing our understanding of Elyria’s mind and her trajectory. The body becomes strange in these pages: hands become a metonym for love; we consider the possibility of living with two hearts; teeth are alternatively tiny, glowing and bared; the brain is animate and other, sometimes roving and acquisitive, sometimes lying calm and still in the dark. Imagery, line-by-line, keeps at bay the claustrophobia that typically accompanies an exploration of feelings or an anatomization of body. The reading experience is akin to waking up behind someone else’s eyes and feeling like if you tell anyone about it, you’ll find psychiatrists medicating your future. You kind of want to keep this book a secret. But you also want to tell everyone you meet to experience Elly’s voice.
Catherine and I first met this year when paired together for a blind interview between debut novelists. We recently talked about writing and life at the bar of Roebling Tea Room in Brooklyn. We continued the conversation electronically the next day.