If depression is a clouded lens that distorts reality, Lacey, who lives in Chicago, is perhaps the finest crafter of these lenses in American fiction ... These narrators, one after the other, would be suffocating were it not for Lacey’s sublime prose. On every page, she slips a tiny gem into your palm, a little miracle of perspective ... This is all to say that Certain American States is exactly what you would expect from Lacey: perfect sentences, penetrating insights, devastating epiphanies. Like the most intense chapters of her novels, reading this collection takes an almost physical toll. Each story inflates like a balloon until, with the very last line, Lacey cuts the string tethering it to the ground.
Love, loss and the missed connections of family life are restlessly observed in this profoundly playful collection ... Catherine Lacey’s stories are bark-out-loud funny in a way that makes the reader feel a little odd ... They are all, however, driven by an expressive energy, by uncontainable personality, wit and the restless need, in the plots as in the sentences, to get the hell away ... In its high modernist mode, Lacey’s work can be unashamedly self-conscious ... Lacey is for readers who liked Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth as children. The prose is full of mathematical pleasures. There are mirrors and lists; events fold on top of one another like origami ... it shows the ability of language to create a different kind of reality ... Although Lacey’s work can be sad, it is rarely monotone, never earnest. Her stories are profoundly playful and piercingly good.
These are not-Raymond-Carver stories, though they’re filled with desperate characters, who live messy lives, often literally. These are not-Alice-Munro stories, though they share the same psychological acuity, particularly with the way we ascribe meaning to possessions and places. These are Catherine Lacey stories, tender and heartbreaking, whimsical and moving—all finely crafted. Not a wasted word here.
[Lacey] gives life to a group of subtly complex, instantly memorable characters whose searches for love, struggles with grief and tentative journeys into the minutiae of the human condition are simultaneously gripping and devastating ... These are stories of breakups, abandonment and strained family ties; dead brothers and distant surrogate fathers; loneliness, happenstance, starting over and learning to let go. Lacey’s elegiac and inspired prose is at its full power in this collection, further establishing her as one of the singular literary voices of her generation.
The collection is a deep dive into the human psyche, focusing on a memorable and flawed cast of narrators and their connections to others. There’s an emotional richness to these stories ... Lacey’s prose is fluid.
A collection of ‘hilariously talky’ short stories in which lonely characters often walk away from their own lives ... a series of seriously good short stories ... It’s a faultless dismount. You almost imagine a row of judges holding up scorecards, like they used to in ice-skating: 6.0, 6.0, 6.0 . . . It sets the bar ... Lacey has a good ear for the inanities of both internal and out-loud conversation ... The 12 stories aren’t at all samey — but they have a common stamp. As the punning title hints, these are states of mind rather than federal states, and they are a narrowish band: uncertain states; states of breakdown ... It lives in its long sentences and they have, well, a sort of momentum. Lacey is absolutely the real thing.
There is a bleak and relentless sameness to the stories; the tone is so consistent, it is occasionally disorienting, and to read the collection all at once is like driving through an emotional Great Plains. But on a sentence level, the stories are exquisite: Every line is dry and spare and bracing, without a single syllable out of place. A fully realized vision.
Lacey explores the effects of solitude and the strains of relationships in her stellar first story collection ... On display is Lacey’s trademark handle on the plight of characters who feel lost in their own lives, as well as her ability to enter the minds of her harried protagonists, making this collection a strong new showcase for her fiction.