Nobody Is Ever Missing – Catherine Lacey

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

I was beginning to realize that what I wanted was the noise of people living near me, but not near enough to cause any inaudible noises to show up because I knew that those sorts of noises often shift into inaudible minor chords and I am unable to deal with that shift—when love or kindness or inaudible noises turn into boredom or disappointment or minor chords—and this is the difference between me and the rest of the world; most people can let their feelings shift without a wildebeest smashing them up from inside, but I, for some reason, cannot—and, still I am more human than wildebeest so I’ll never be exempt from the human need for other people to be near, but because I am part wildebeest they can’t be too near…

This realization crept on twenty- eight year old Elyria as she was living in New Zealand. She abandoned an OK marriage, a nice New York apartment, and a successful soap opera writing career at CBS to secretly escape to the Pacific island. Why? The wildebeest inside of her forced her to.

Actually the death of her adopted sister brought on so much grief that she irrationally married her sister’s math professor. Instead of providing each other solace, the two of them were unable to endure each other or the loss.

Once in New Zealand,  she hitchhiked to get to the farm of a man she barely knew, and stayed there in exchange for working on the property. On the way, she slept in sheds and phone booths and met people who moved at a slower pace, which she valued.

Elyria felt that New Zealand was a place where she could “make sense to herself”. She wanted a life without a past or future.  “…I didn’t just want a divorce from my husband, but a divorce from everything, to divorce my own history..”

Even so, she kept questioning why she left a decent life. “I think brains might be machines that turn information into feelings and feelings back into decisions and I’ve discovered that my machine has been put together in a strange way and it translates life in a strange way…”

Nobody is Ever Missing is a mesmeric novel about loss and introspection. It is filled with both wit and melancholy. As you can see from the opening quote, it is written as Elyria thinks. This “stream of consciousness” style could have become unruly, as is often the case in novels , but author Catherine Lacey doesn’t fall into that trap. In fact, the writing is engaging and that is why I keep quoting from the book. I can appreciate that as Elyria often speaks in paradoxes,  she really doesn’t evolve but vacillates on what she believes.

What I also like is that although the novel is centered on Elyria, the many supporting characters are portrayed fully so we get a feel for the life and culture, in addition to providing more insight into Elyria.

Readers may not care for the book’s unsatisfying conclusion, but I feel that it is the only plausible ending. Nobody is Ever Missing is for readers who  like to ponder human emotion and realize that life isn’t tidy.

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