Nobody is Ever Missing
For reasons she is never quite able to formulate, Elyria flees her marriage and New York and runs away to New Zealand, where she wanders about, falling short of either achieving or escaping personhood (the closest she achieves to a self-nullifying stability is when working in the garden of an aging poet, who eventually frees himself of her with the necessarily blunt observation, “You are a sad person, and I’m not a person who can tolerate other people’s sadness”). Elyria is caught in a tourniquet of self-observation which borders at times on the hysterical. She thinks back to the early period of life with the person who became with her husband, when “I was not an observer of myself, but a be-er of myself, a person who just was instead of a person who was almost”, but we know that this relationship, with a man Elyria met because he was the last person her sister talked to before her suicide, was both formed and deformed by a trauma Elyria could not face, a trauma which the relationship is unable to either heal or address. Although Elyria recognises she has a problem with authenticity (“A rational person would feel upset instead of just knowing she was upset.”), this appears to be incurable, existential, as she is incapable of relaxing the vigilance that keeps her ‘inner wildebeests’ hidden and thus prevents her escape into authenticity: “I was not a person but just some evidence of myself”. Only at the end of the book, when she has returned and been rejected by her husband and is walking through New York in torrential rain, does she perhaps (but only perhaps) exhibit an awareness of her surroundings that is not distorted by self-obsession, but this clarity (possibly fleeting, possibly terminal) is predicated on a relinquishment that is uncertain in its implications.
You can run all the way to New Zealand, but eventually you'll catch up with yourself.
Without telling her family, Elyria takes a one-way flight to New Zealand, abruptly leaving her stable but unfulfilling life in Manhattan. As her husband scrambles to figure out what happened to her, Elyria hurtles into the unknown, testing fate by hitchhiking, tacitly being swept into the lives of strangers, and sleeping in fields, forests, and public parks.
Her risky and often surreal encounters with the people and wildlife of New Zealand propel Elyria deeper into her deteriorating mind. Haunted by her sister's death and consumed by an inner violence, her growing rage remains so expertly concealed that those who meet her sense nothing unwell. This discord between her inner and outer reality leads her to another obsession: If her truest self is invisible and unknowable to others, is she even alive?
The risks Elyria takes on her journey are paralleled by the risks Catherine Lacey takes on the page. In urgent, spiraling prose she whittles away at the rage within Elyria and exposes the very real, very knowable anxiety of the human condition. And yet somehow Lacey manages to poke fun at her unrelenting self-consciousness, her high-stakes search for the dark heart of the self.
In the spirit of Haruki Murakami and Amelia Gray, Nobody Is Ever Missing is full of mordant humor and uncanny insights, as Elyria waffles between obsession and numbness in the face of love, loss, danger, and self-knowledge.
This dazzling, dark novel follows a young woman called Elyria as she hitchhikes across the wilds of New Zealand, fleeing from her marriage and her sorrows, searching for what's missing
CATHERINE LACEY is the recipient of a 2012 NYFA Artist's Fellowship in Fiction Writing. She has published interviews, stories and non-fiction in various journals and magazines including McSweeney's, The Believer, the Atlantic, 52 Stories and Brooklyn Magazine. Her second novel is forthcoming from Granta Books.