Nobody Is Ever Missing

Nobody Is Ever Missing

by Catherine Lacey

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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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner

…[a] searching, emotionally resonant first novel…Elyria is disengaged and depleted in a manner that put me in mind of the characters in the novels of Tao Lin, that Zen summoner of millennial ennui. Yet there's nothing depleted about Ms. Lacey's prose, which manages to be dreamy and fierce at the same time…Ms. Lacey's slim novel impressed me, and held me to my chair. There's significant talent at work here…Nobody Is Ever Missing gets so much right that you easily push past its small flaws. It's an aching portrait of a young woman doing the hard thing, "trying to think clearly about mixed feelings."

Publishers Weekly

Lacey’s debut novel has emotional power, depth, and subtle humor. The protagonist, Elyria, makes the impulsive decision to leave her luxurious New York City apartment, her husband, her job as a scriptwriter for soap operas, and, most importantly, the charade of happiness she has kept up since her sister’s suicide. Elyria decides to take a trip to New Zealand, after going to a party and meeting Werner, a successful novelist who said she could stay at his cottage there. She arrives and hitchhikes to Werner’s home, along the way meeting Jaye, a transgendered female flight attendant, and Judas, who resembles a character from “a porno or slasher movie,” among others. At Werner’s cottage, Elyria is content to lead a largely isolated existence, repaying her host’s generosity by tending his garden, but eventually Werner tires of her and she has to move on. Lacey rejects the typical dramatic trajectory of a self-discovery story. Instead, she keenly constructs a believable universe composed not of disasters or miracles, but of choices and consequences. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (July)

From the Publisher

Ms. Lacey has written a serious, frequently brilliant novel with a sustained intensity that is rare in fiction. It's the most promising first novel that I've encountered this year.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“[A] searching, emotionally resonant first novel…[Lacey's prose is] dreamy and fierce at the same time…Ms. Lacey's slim novel impressed me, and held me to my chair. There's significant talent at work here…"Nobody Is Ever Missing" gets so much right that you easily push past its small flaws. It's an aching portrait of a young woman doing the hard thing, "trying to think clearly about mixed feelings.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“This is how much I liked Catherine Lacey's debut 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 . . . Nobody Is Ever Missing 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 . . . Lacey is a very gifted writer and thinker, and if this is what post-wounded women sound like—diffident about the pain of being alive, funny and dead-on about the obstacles to being their best selves—I say bring 'em on.” —Daphne Merkin, The New Yorker

“The premise begins simply enough: Elyria has unexpectedly left her husband. And yet the proceeding narrative introduces some of contemporary fiction's most complex personal introspection as Catherine Lacey—with the ease of a master—depicts a mind that may, or may not, be breaking down . . . Elyria hitchhikes, meets a handful of characters and thinks. And her ponderings—written in Lacey's consistently remarkable, urgent prose style—slowly unravel the layers of Elyria's discontent, revealing an expanse of universal anxiety and uncertainty. Her observations of the country and her ruminations on the past are simultaneously childlike in their wonder and astounding in their depth. Page after page, the novel strikes those rarely accomplished balances between action and interiority, comedy and bleakness, stream-of-consciousness and clarity. An uncomplicated plot written with honesty and linguistic deftness characterizes many of the world's great novels, including this debut. As the story concludes, Lacey does not assert any sense of closure because there are no lessons here, only a stunning portrait of, to paraphrase Doris Lessing, a woman going mad all by herself.” —Tiffany Gibert, Time Out New York

“Lacey's wise and dazzling novel... is funny, not in a zany way, but in the audaciously morbid way a Coen brothers picture is funny.” —Jennifer B. McDonald, Slate

“[A] laser smart, affecting, confounding, recalcitrant, infuriating, relentlessly stylish debut novel . . . Using short chapters to stop for breath, Lacey stacks clause upon clause with unerring rhythm, one of those glorious gifts that not everyone's been given and guided by that fabulous inner ear she teases out assonances and upends predictable constructions, modulating her phrases with repetitions, inversions, and tautly-strung wit, the novel propelled by sentences that wind their way inward before springing back out with renewed velocity.” —Nathan Huffstutter, Electric Literature

“Catherine Lacey's debut novel explores that deeply human question... She holds the reader rapt for 244 pages, vividly situating us—entrapping us, really.” —Laura Pearson, Chicago Tribune

“Catherine Lacey's remarkably immersive and morbidly humorous debut, Nobody Is Ever Missing, reminds one of Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar . . . As Elyria increasingly feels that she is ‘a human non sequitur' and perhaps ‘a form of radiation,' Lacey brilliantly captures her decline through long, winding sentences. Her descent is as harrowing as it is magnetic.” —Vikas Turakhia, The Plain Dealer

“My copy of Catherine Lacey's debut novel is dog-eared to the degree of making all those folded corners pointless. The book is one large dog-eared page, because you don't have to flip far to find sentences and sentiments that make you pause and stare at the words, those simple marvels, and emit the sort of soft ‘oh' that usually comes after finishing a poem.” —Scott Onak, The Rumpus

“Ever think of taking off and just going somewhere totally random? Lacey's debut introduces us to Elyria, who takes off from her stable American life to go live in New Zealand. It's a story that jumps out at you, and is full of the type of wisdom you just don't get from many debut novelists.” —Jason Diamond, Flavorwire, 10 Must-Read Books for July

Nobody Is Ever Missing has the rare quality of being totally riveting but also very quiet. I read this book as fast as I would any thriller, but instead of high-speed chases there is a woman, mostly alone, sifting through her own thoughts and memories. The narrator, a young woman who has run away from her husband and family, is traveling through New Zealand for most of the book, but this isn't a traditional quest narrative—or maybe it is, but the quest is dark and personal and indirect and circuitous. Catherine Lacey's voice is something truly special; there is a wildebeest at the heart of this novel and you need to meet it.” —Rachel Riederer, Guernica

“The self-consciousness of [Nobody Is Ever Missing], the sentences that offer contradictions inside themselves, will be related to by most any reader who seeks in reading the pleasure of self-recognition.” —Brad Nicholson, Bookslut

“Lacey wisely chooses to structure the book using short chapters, which keeps the pacing swift . . . The short chapters have the shape and feel of vignettes, and they allow Elyria to move back and forth in time as she fills us in on the backstory that pushed her to leave . . . We, like her, are captivated by the descent, helpless to watch and wander along.” —Jennine Capo Crucet, The L Magazine

“Catherine Lacey's virtuosic debut is a gutsy, lyric meditation on identity, love, transformation, and what it means to be free. It is a breathtakingly accomplished novel, and Catherine Lacey is a riveting new voice in contemporary fiction.” —Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth

“A dense, subtle series of meditations on domestication, estrangement, wildness, and above all, loss and absence.” —David Shields, author of How Literature Saved My Life and coauthor of Salinger

“Catherine Lacey has a magic voice like none I've ever read before. An unknown cousin of both David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Nobody Is Ever Missing is a fabulously intelligent and witty book, and also a very moving one.” —Rivka Galchen, author of American Innovations

“This book lives and breathes. It is a squall and Catherine Lacey is a force.” —Amelia Gray, author of Threats

“A dark, precise jewel of a novel that does what every piece of writing should: cast a subtly new light on the world around us.” —John Wray, author of Lowboy

“Catherine Lacey's voice is wholly unique, somehow managing to be both a challenge and a relief at the same time. Nobody is Ever Missing is one of my favourite books of the year, a journey to the other side of the world I won't soon forget.” —Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins

author of How Literature Saved My Life and coautho David Shields

A dense, subtle series of meditations on domestication, estrangement, wildness, and above all, loss and absence.

Kirkus Reviews

Elyria Riley buys a one-way ticket to New Zealand, leaving her husband without warning or explanation, in Lacey's debut novel. Elyria, a soap-opera writer, is no stranger to the emotional drama that can permeate daily life. She's haunted by memories of Ruby, her adopted sister, who committed suicide by jumping out a window. It was through this traumatic event that Elyria first met Charles, a mathematics professor; Ruby was his teaching assistant, and he bonded with Elyria over their common experiences of loss. As she dryly puts it, "[a]nother terrible thing was how I met my husband." Death forms the foundation of their marriage until the day Elyria leaves Charles behind and goes to New Zealand. Her life becomes a series of hitchhiked rides, strange encounters and odd jobs. The plot would be worthy of a soap opera if not for Elyria's distinctive self-awareness and critical voice. She's a cold, distant observer of her own feelings and actions. Early on, this voice pulls the reader in and provides moments of great insight and wit. "[T]o love someone," she states, "is to know that one day you'll have to watch them break unless you do first." But as Elyria moves from job to job, from place to place, relying on the kindness of strangers she's quick to abandon, she exhausts the reader's sympathies. As a narrator, she grows both less relatable and less reliable until the plot reaches its inevitable conclusion. Elyria is the last to realize that what she's trying to escape, after all, is herself. A travel story that's missing an emotional journey.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374711283
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 07/08/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 548 KB

Read an Excerpt

Nobody Is Ever Missing

A Novel

By Catherine Lacey

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2014 Catherine Lacey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71128-3


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. I think this because of what happened the week I knew I’d be leaving soon, but he didn’t know; I knew I needed to tell him this but I couldn’t imagine any possible way to get my mouth to make those words, and since my husband can unintentionally read minds, he drank a good deal more than usual that week, jars of gin mostly, but tall beers from the deli, too. He’d walk in sipping a can hidden in a paper bag, smile like it was a joke.

I would laugh.

He would laugh.

Inside our laughing we weren’t really laughing.

The morning I left he got out of bed, got dressed, and left the room. I stayed cold awake under shut lids until I heard our front door close. I left the apartment at noon wearing my backpack and I felt so sick and absurd that I walked into a bar instead of the subway. I ordered a double bourbon even though I don’t usually drink like that and the bartender asked me where I was from and I said Germany for no good reason, or maybe just so he wouldn’t try to talk to me, or maybe because I needed to live in some other story for a half hour: I was a lone German woman, here to see the Statue of Liberty and the Square of Time and the Park of Central (not a woman taking a one-way flight to a country where she only knew one person, who had only once extended an offer of his guest room, which, when she thought of it again, seemed to be the kind of invitation a person extends when they know it won’t be taken but it was too late now because I was taking it and oh well oh well oh well).

A man took the stool beside me despite a long row of empties, ordered a cranberry and nothing.

What’s your trouble? he asked me. Tell me your trouble, baby.

I looked back at him like I didn’t have any trouble to tell because that’s my trouble, I thought, not knowing how to tell it, and this is why my favorite thing about airport security is how you can cry the whole way through and they’ll only try to figure out whether you’ll blow up. They’ll still search you if they want to search you. They’ll still try to detect metal on you. They’ll still yell about laptops and liquids and gels and shoes, and no one will ask what’s wrong because everything is already wrong, and they won’t look twice at you because they’re only paid to look once. And for this, sometimes, some people are thankful.


They looked and made quick calculations: a 7 percent chance of con artistry, 4 percent chance of prostitution, 50 percent chance of mental instability, 20 percent chance of obnoxiousness, a 4 percent chance of violent behavior. I was probably none of these things, at least not at first, but to all the passing drivers and everyone else in this country I could be anything, so they just slowed, had a look, made a guess, kept driving.

Women—they’d squint quick, make a worried face, continue on. Men (I later learned) stared from the farthest distance—their eyes trained to stay on me in case I was something they needed to shoot or capture—but they hardly ever stopped. Up close, I was not so promising: just a woman wearing a backpack, a cardigan, green sneakers. And young-seeming, of course, because you must seem young to get away with this kind of vulnerability, standing on a road’s shoulder, showing the pale underside of your arm. You must seem both totally harmless and able, if necessary, to push a knife through any tender gut.

But I didn’t know any of this at first—I just stood and waited, not knowing that wearing sunglasses would always leave me stranded, not knowing that wearing my hair down meant something I did not mean, not knowing that my posture had to be so carefully calibrated, that I should always stand like a dancer ready to leap.

All I knew was what I’d read on that map at the airport: south until I hit Wellington, across on the ferry, then Picton, Nelson, Takaka, and Golden Bay, Werner’s farm, the address scrawled on that bit of paper that had started all this.

When the plane landed that morning, I hadn’t slept for thirty-seven hours or so. After they’d dimmed the lights I’d kept my eyes wide, my brain cruising into an endless horizon. I didn’t read anything or watch anything on the screen inches from my face. I listened to sleeping bodies breathe; I tried to pick words out of feathery voices, rows away. The flight attendants swayed down the aisles and winked and pursed their lips and handed me very certain amounts of food substance: bread roll smooth as a lightbulb; tongue-sized piece of chicken; thirty-two peanuts in a metallic pocket. I bit into a flap of cheese, not noticing the plastic, then gave up on food.

Outside baggage claim I watched a man smoking a cigarette and kicking something along the curb, sunlight splintering around him like a painting of a saint. This was all it was, this country I’d catapulted into.

*   *   *

Oh, how could I not stop for you? that first driver asked. How could I not?

I don’t know, I said. How could you?

The woman laughed but I was not in a place to see humor. I suppose it had been funny, but when I stared back at her with nothing on my face she stopped laughing. A long, curved nose gave her the regal but unflattering look of a falcon or toucan. She spoke to me like I was a child, which was fine because I wanted to be one. Lately, I couldn’t remember those years, as if childhood was a movie I’d only seen the previews to.

You’re a brave lass, aren’t you? Don’t see many like you out on the road.

There’s a certain kind of woman who will notice someone’s terror and call it bravery.

I thought lots of people hitchhiked here.

Oh, not too many, she said. Not anymore. Everywhere is dangerous these days. Would you have a pear? Help yourself to a Nashi. I have loads of ’em, a special at the grocery.

She told me about her eleven-year-old son, an accident she’d made in her twenties, and I ate a pear with the juice going everywhere, but she was only going to Papakura, so she let me out by a petrol station not far down the highway.

Don’t you let any blokes pick you up, you hear? If one stops, you just let him keep going. We’re always keeping an eye out, other women, you know. Another will stop for you soon enough.

I said I would, but I knew I wouldn’t take her advice, because I can never manage to reject anyone’s offer of anything; this was one of the only things about myself of which I was certain.

For a while there were no cars to show my thumb to, but I kept standing there, not even having an appropriate curiosity about this new country (a boring little mountain, a plain blue lake, a gas station, the same as ours only slightly not). The skin on my lips was drying and I thought about how all the cells on every body are on their way to a total lack of moisture and everyone alive has that thought all the time but almost no one says it and no one says it because they don’t really think that thought, they just have it, like they have toes, like most people have toes; and the knowledge that we’re all drying up is what presses the gas pedal in all the cars people drive away from where they are, which reminded me that I wasn’t going anywhere, and I noticed that many cars had passed but none had stopped or even slowed, and I began to wonder about what would happen if no one took me, if the first woman had been a fluke and hitchhiking had been left in the seventies with other now-dangerous things—lead paint, certain plastics, free love—and I was going to be stuck here forever, watching no cars drive by, thinking about my cells all helpless to their drying.

I decided to try to look happy because I thought someone might be more inclined to pick up someone who was happy.

I am happy, I told myself, I am a happy person.

I opened my eyes more than was necessary and hoped this would convey my happiness to the cars, but they kept passing.

One honked, as if to say, No.

My arm stayed out for a long time and my elbow ached at the spot where they’d always taken the blood, and I became so accustomed to the passing cars that I forgot that the point of all this was for me to get into a car and go somewhere, but nothing was following anything else—one car would pass, then another, but all the cars came and went alone. And I was here. And nothing had followed me—I was a human non sequitur—senseless and misplaced, a bad joke, a joke with no place to land. The sky was a good sky color and the air was healthy feeling, and maybe this was the kind of day that reminded all those drivers that days are a finite resource and it’s best to protect the ones you have. This kind of day doesn’t want you to dare it, doesn’t want you to flip a coin, doesn’t want you to pick up a stranger off the side of the road.

But eventually that first woman was proven right—it was the women who stopped, who insisted they never picked up hitchhikers, only women with thumbs out, damsels in transportation distress—which was what the second woman said, and I thought, Sure, fine, whatever—I wasn’t going to mince words with anyone. There was no reason for that. She was on her way home from a hospital where she was a nurse, so I asked her what I had been thinking about ever since that last day at the lab:

What do they do with the blood? After they’re done with it, I mean.

What blood? she asked.

When they test it. After they test it for disease or hormone levels or whatever. All those tubes of it—what happens?

Well, they dispose of it. It is hazardous waste.

But where does it go?

Into a secure place. First a tube, then a hazardous-waste container, then the containers are taken away by a company. They put it somewhere safe and secure and no one ever touches it ever again.

And that put an end to our talking. We didn’t say another thing until she let me out where she had to let me out.

Good luck, she said, take care. And stay away from those blokes.

Copyright © 2014 by Catherine Lacey


Excerpted from Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey. Copyright © 2014 Catherine Lacey. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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