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Daphne Merkin

A Novel of the 'Post-Wounded Woman'

This is how much I liked Catherine Lacey’s début novel, “Nobody Is Ever Missing”: I read it over a summer weekend, mostly transfixed, earmarking nearly every other page to identify perceptions or turns of phrase I might wish to return to. The novel is an unlikely page-turner, since it takes place almost entirely in the narrator’s head, and it will not appeal to everyone, least of all to those who are interested in intricate plot development. Then again, even voracious readers read for amorphous and not easily articulated reasons, and this particular book satisfies all my inchoate readerly impulses—including the primary one of getting out of my own skin and into someone else’s—in a way that, say, Donna Tartt’s more explicitly pitched “The Goldfinch” decidedly does not.

“Nobody Is Ever Missing” takes its title from John Berryman’s poem “Dream Song 29,” which also contains one of my all-time favorite lines, “All the bells say: too late”—an expression of belatedness that captures the psychic tense in which the novel’s story is told. The book begins breathlessly, mid-thought, as though we are in the midst of a conversation with the narrator and our interest has already been whetted: “There might be people in this world who can read minds against their will and if that kind of person exists I am pretty sure my husband is one of them.” The story’s protagonist is named, a bit fussily, Elyria, in commemoration of “a town in Ohio that my mother had never visited,” but the novel, although consumingly pensive, is anything but fussy.

The New Yorker | August 14, 2014.


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