Nobody Is Ever Missing

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This is a brilliant book that I read in two long stretches, as I got so engrossed in the poetic streams of consciousness that Lacey has written. The protagonist of this book, Elyria, is a 28 year old soap opera writer married to a successful mathematics professor who was the last person to see her sister alive before she committed suicide. The foundation of her marriage to this professor is built upon her sister’s suicide and the suicide of the professor’s own mother, their respective losses entwining them together. With this as the backdrop to the story, Elyria decides, without telling anyone, to buy a one way ticket to New Zealand to look for a poet she met at a reading. As Elyria hitchhikes across New Zealand and gets lost in her own thoughts and flashes back to her childhood and married life, we get snapshots of her dysfunctional family (even though Elyria claims that she has none) and the grime and grit of her marriage. Although things may look smooth and shiny on the surface, we soon realize that there are many unexpressed feelings lurking beneath the ground, as her husband tends to suffer from night terrors, choking her in his sleep. We also soon start to see how the marriage has been eroding Elyria’s sense of self, moulding her into something her husband wants, suppressing her true nature and thoughts.

From a psychological perspective, this book is a reproduction of the mind of a disturbed, melancholic and confused person. Lacey’s long rambling sentences depict the unravelling of Elyria’s twisted mind, thoughts knotted together, but gracefully taken apart by Lacey’s good writing. Many of the imagery used in the book are original and unique. I find Lacey one of the rare authors who manages to pull-off this style of writing – streams of consciousness and keen observations of surroundings and people. Her insights on the condition of the world, marriage, relationships, human beings and psychology are spot-on, flashes of brilliance spattered generously across Elyria’s mind. Lacey blurs the line between unreality and reality, dreams and thoughts, lucidness and reverie with great mastery. Across many of Elyria’s self-imposed criticisms and monologues in her mind, Lacey broaches on topics such as whether there should be a “should” before our feelings, whether we can truly separate thoughts and feelings, and whether it is possible for us to ever find ourselves.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed Lacey’s description of how Elyria wants to grab a knife and stab something, but merely says things like “ok”, “nothing” meekly. Her depiction of a low-grade unexpressed resentment and angst building up over time is spot-on. I also delight in Lacey’s use of musical imagery in her book – where she talks about “inaudible noise” representing love, and the “minor chord” symbolizing the pervasive low-grade resentment that one may feel towards other human beings.

Despite the bleakness of the topics raised in this novel, Lacey still manages to invoke humor and a sense of light-hearted playfulness here and there, breaking the darkness of Elyria’s reverie with poignant observations about life, other human beings or the surroundings.

While some readers may find the lack of resolution to Elyria’s story unsettling, leaving us on an ambiguous note, waiting for something more, I believe this is a deliberate attempt by Lacey to portray true life. The unravelling of a dissonant mind leaves a mess that is not that easy to retract. One cannot merely sweep it under the carpet. Rather, it stains, and lets its presence be known in the nauseating scent and sight.

Overall, this is a great read and I applaud Lacey for this audacious style of writing given that this is her first novel. It is making a huge statement on literary style and shows that a good story can be told merely by writing in the style of streams of consciousness. This is a novel I recommend all to read, especially if you believe you have a mind not of a very normal nature (if a normal mind exists at all). Perhaps, you can find some empathy and solace in knowing that someone else thinks and feels the same way too. Good job Lacey!

 

Lacey, Catherine. Nobody Is Ever Missing: a Novel. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014.

 

Wang Jiunwen
Singapore

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