Can you ever escape yourself? That’s the question behind Catherine Lacey’s debut novel. I suppose the answer is a fairly obvious no, but Lacey gives it to us in the most depressing way possible. I found this book through a Joss Whedon tweet, second time this has happened, and much like his first recommendation, this book is expertly written. I wish I’d read this book before the Top Ten Tuesday post on October 7th. This is a great character driven novel. There’s almost nothing in this book except character. There is very little action. You’re not constantly waiting to see what happens next. Instead, you’re waiting to see if the protagonist ever figures out her shit. That’s what makes this book relatable, but not necessarily enjoyable. If you’ve ever had someone in your life who suffers from depression, you’ll immediately recognize Elyria’s actions and see how she got to where she is.
I’m not sure I can say that I liked this book. I enjoyed the ideas. I liked the writing – to a point. But man, this book was bleak. Depressing. Depressing. Depressing. The short story – Elyria, a twenty-eight year old woman finds herself in a loveless marriage and decides that she doesn’t want to be in it anymore. Instead of divorcing him, she drops off the grid, takes a one way flight to New Zealand, and ends up at the home of a man she met once. One of the things I really liked about this book is that Elyria’s life isn’t all doom and gloom. She’s not trying to escape a life full of one terrible event after another. Everything isn’t going wrong. Sure, she’s suffered, but who hasn’t. And she’s not just bored and trying to find adventure. Instead, she’s just a person who isn’t sure how her life got to where it is.
Elyria’s adopted sister, Ruby, was always better. Always preferred. Her mother’s favoured daughter. Excelling at school and off to university while Elyria is still wallowing in high school uncertainty. They’re the same age, but Ruby is outshining her sister at every turn. Even through their differences, they’re close. But then Ruby commits suicide. This would be heartbreaking for anyone involved. Truly devastating. But Elyria compounds the pain by falling for Ruby’s professor. Enough that she eventually marries him. She links herself forever to the last person who spoke to her sister. Husband (as she refers to him for most of the book) is Elyria’s way of trying to figure out why her sister decided to do what she did. Sure, at first, Elyria may genuinely have believed that she was in love with him, but before long, she knows her feelings aren’t real. But they’re what she’s supposed to feel, so she keeps trucking along. She has a seemingly good marriage. A good lifestyle. Both of them have good jobs and make a lot of money. To all outward appearances, they have a good life. Not perfect, but good. There’s nothing here to complain about without sounding whining. And that’s what I like most about the story Lacey has crafted. Seeming to have it all isn’t at all the same as actually being happy.
This is something that has come up in discussion a lot recently. People have this misguided belief that money and prestige and appearance are the be all and end all of everything. They are all you need to be happy. If you look like you have it all, then you must – right? And if you don’t look the part, then you must be failing. I live in a place where bigger is better. Owning a stand alone house that is larger than you need. Driving a vehicle that is completely impractical and loaded with extras. Smothering yourself in debt to look the part. These are the only things that mean you are succeeding. If you chose to live a different way, then you must be failing. No one is allowed to choose to be different. Everyone is drowning under all this upward mobility. So, after you’ve tried and tried and tried to be the person you’re “supposed” to be, you realize you no longer know who you wanted to be in the first place. Or who you’re trying to impress.
This is where Elyria finds herself. She’s never really known how to be a real person. She tries to do the things she supposed to. To feel the things she’s supposed to. She tries and tries and tries to be a real girl and eventually, she realizes that she has no idea what she’s doing. This is what sends her across the globe to a place where she knows no one. A place where she can begin again. A place where she can be alone and reboot. And once she’s there, she realizes that she has no idea what that even means. Lacey makes us look at our idea of self. Are we who we think we are? Or are we who other people define us to be? When we’re no longer involved with people who have been important in our lives, are we still the people we were when we were with them? And after we’ve started running, once we’ve started to redefine ourselves, who can we possibly be other than the person we already are? No one can ever run away from who they are – you can never be missing from your own person. No matter where Elyria goes, she’s always there. It’s a very long way to get to that old saying – where ever you go, there you are.
This is a book to be talked about. I’m not saying it will be big in the suburban mom circles, but it might be, and probably should be. People should question who they are and why they are where they are. If we never look at ourselves, how can we ever really know that we’re happy? But even though I think people should talk about it, man, I’m glad it was short. The first 150 pages or so were a super fast read. Depressing and dreary, yes, but fast. Then there are the last 100 pages of the book. It took me days to get through these pages. And I was on vacation and had nothing to do but read. They were so heavy. So hopeless. Just so much. There were these long stream of consciousness periods. Paragraphs that lasts pages and pages. By the time I got to the end of one of these sections, I had to stop reading. I’d get through about a dozen pages at a time and I’d have to take an hour long break. There’s no happy in this book.
I don’t require my books to be full of likable characters and happy endings, but I need there to be a window to allow in a little happy. For just a brief period. But Elyria never gets any happy. She never finds a moment. She is always drowning in herself. No one in this book is happy. Everyone is just living. Do we have any other choice?