Isn’t everyone on the planet or at least everyone on the planet called me stuck between the two impulses of wanting to walk away like it never happened and wanting to be a good person in love, loving, being loved, making sense, just fine?
The cover Nobody is Ever Missing depicts a woman slowly submerging her head under water, a feeling not far from the sensation of reading Catherine Lacey’s powerful first novel, in which a young woman named Elyria leaves her job and husband in New York with a one-way ticket to New Zealand and not much else.
Though the plot may remind you of a feel-good tale like Eat Pray Love, don’t expect a brush with spiritual enlightenment, exotic cuisine, or a foreign lover here. Instead, the action of Nobody is Ever Missing takes place largely in Elyria’s mind, a chaotic place where thoughts replay themselves over and over like disintegration loops. Her impulses, which she characterizes as a weighty wildebeest, throw her into actions beyond her doing (booking a flight to New Zealand; hitchhiking to an acquaintance’s farm) and away from situations that make her uncomfortable, which present themselves via crescendos in the minor key.
Elyria’s trip arrives nearly five years to the day after the suicide of her adopted sister, Ruby, an event that runs constantly through Elyria’s internal life in the book. In New Zealand, Elyria realizes shes isn’t running from just a stiflingly typical life in New York, from a husband whom she’s come to resent over the years, or even Ruby’s traumatizing passing. What she truly craves is a release from her own head: “That was what I wanted all this time, to go fully missing, but I would never be able to go fully missing—nobody is missing like that, no one has ever had that luxury and no one ever will.”
As Elyria retreats deeper and deeper within herself, Lacey draws a unique reflection of female identity, and a portrait of female wildness akin to the fevered interiors of Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment. It’s a descent into a world that we’re sometimes afraid to confront, a room inside our minds that many of us will keep locked for our entire lives. Lacey, in her piercing debut, is brave enough to open it up and take a look around—even when the view isn’t pretty.