A stream-of-consciousness indictment of the academy—conversant with #MeToo-era sexual politics—isn’t unrecognizable in the contemporary literary field. In fact, Ives’s previous novel, Loudermilk, lampooned MFA programs and the kooks who people them. But she’s doing something stranger here. After its first forty pages, Life Is Everywhere turns heel ... The novel we thought we’d been reading—#MeToo scandal rocks university!—disassembles itself, becomes something else, and something else again ... Life Is Everywhere formally literalizes Le Guin’s carrier bag: texts cite further referents, self-divide, replicate, and undercut one another. The narrative recursively dehisces itself ... What fascinates about Ives’s maneuvering is these interstices and echoic functions are where the psychic and narrative excesses of trauma—its 'untellable too muchness—are reckoned with ... Trauma is a haunting that exceeds the horizons of storytelling; rape severs the subject from her body, disorients temporality. Ives represents this as a formal problem, attempting to narrativize trauma again and again, allowing these attempts to be messy, to falter, to fail.
An ingenious blend of distinct narrative voices, Lucy Ives' new novel is unconventional and resourceful, sorrowful and perceptive, a challenging, rewarding book full of irreverent humor, rich imagery and engrossing digressions. The aptly titled Life Is Everywhere succeeds on various fronts. It's a mordant campus novel, a meticulous portrait of psychological anguish and a sneakily suspenseful literary mystery. It brims with intellectual energy and sentences you'll want to read aloud to loved ones ... For each of these imaginary texts, Ives adopts different prose styles and narrative voices, from academic-ese and juvenilia to postmodernism and autofiction. She's deft at lampooning scholarly pretentions ... At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, Ives depicts Erin's emotional difficulties with immense specificity and unusual metaphors ... Ives pens fascinating digressions on obscure episodes in medical and artistic history; these prove important to Erin's story. And her sentences about mundane occurrences are frequently beautiful ... Ives isn't well-known, mainly because her work — she's published several previous books — can be somewhat challenging. But she's clearly brilliant, and in Life Is Everywhere, she's written the sort of book that eludes all but the most talented of novelists.
Like the millennium-spanning introduction and the lengthy examination of library architecture, enormous amounts of Life Is Everywhere feel, at first, like needless digression—and perhaps they would be, in the hands of a lesser writer—but these offshoots add depth, texture, and an experimental flourish to the structure of the book ... It all might sound a little meta, a little MFA-program, but Ives pulls it off in part thanks to an unshakable confidence in what she is attempting, and the fact that she can write. On a sentence level, the book is full of personality, stunning imagery, and ever-deepening philosophical roots ... The novel’s form is a miraculous, shapeshifting thing, changing at a moment’s notice. Ives radically, deftly reinvents herself throughout ... shatters any kind of straightforward narrative arc in favor of a collage of shards that emphasizes the tone, atmosphere, and the general experience of life in the world at a particular moment. And it wouldn’t work were Ives not a Big Ideas writer on the level of Gaddis, or DeLillo, or Wallace. Fortunately for all of us, she is ... a truly spectacular gestalt that requires every one of its 472 pages. To reveal too many of its tricks would take away from the joy in experiencing all of the disparate parts that make up the whole. In the end, Life is Everywhere is the funny, heartbreaking, and incredibly complex story of how a woman ends up sending a petty email—revolving around a pun, no less, on the word 'work,' referring to both a person’s career and to cosmetic surgery ('having work done'). It’s a minor event, this email, but it is one that would not have been possible without thousands of years-worth of human history transpiring exactly as they did. We should be thankful, too, that human history has run a course that allows us to read a writer operating on the level that Ives does, able to see the individual threads that we follow through the world writ large.
Despair mixes with intellectual daring ... an academic satire expands into an ungainly portmanteau of texts and tales and literary forms ... The links connecting all this are tenuous and random; the sprawl, instead, creates a sense of profusion, the sort of thing aspired to in the maximalist heyday of David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo. What seems more contemporary, however, is the mechanical feeling of victimization that clings to the varied narratives and dampens the vigor of the prose. There is something wondrous and awful and bewildering in the conception of this big, inventive novel, but the writing never fully awakens to it.
Such narrative clichés recur exhaustively throughout Lucy Ives’s latest novel, Life Is Everywhere, a dizzyingly labyrinthine work of speculative metafiction that seems to take on, as its title suggests, everything ... Crammed full of recognizable tropes, Ives’s metafiction doesn’t linger on any single one for too long. Her third novel, Life Is Everywhere carries traces of the author’s earlier, more avant-garde fiction, experimental poetry and art criticism. Like so much of Ives’s work, this book feels like a self-conscious recycling of prior aesthetic forms, of other people’s stories — taking the tired templates of hackneyed genres and rewiring them into Ives’s polyphonic pastiche ... With all its narrative feints and literary hoaxes, Ives’s novel often reads like an extended thought experiment. Plotlines spiral out, minor details take on outsize significance, while world-historical events (the July Revolution, World War II) get rapidly reduced, stuffed into footnotes like the loose pages in so many handbags ... The novel announces perhaps more than any of her previous work the anxiety of this influence, spinning the rarefied platitudes and paradigms of the ivory tower into the very meat of her text ... becomes an uncanny hyperbole of the campus novel in which the genre’s intertextual winks and nods get so aggressively overplayed as to lose their edges entirely. It’s Roland Barthes’s 'death of the author,' but Ives’s narrator keeps exhuming the author figure only to bury him again. At times, the novel reads like the G.R.E. on Adderall ... What is the point of such a bilious, billowing narrative? Why put the reader through nearly 500 pages of dense intertextual exercise? ... the reader’s attention too will sometimes drift. But don’t worry: If you begin to feel yourself lose the plot, rest assured that is also the whole point ... The novel doesn’t so much push a moral or philosophical takeaway as plunge the reader into the murky waters of its proliferating allusions, asking you to rethink, reimagine and sometimes actually reread its various parts. Ives’s frenetic satire seemingly leaves no stones unturned ... Ives takes Le Guin’s theory of fiction that privileges form over content — the bag itself over what it carries — and turns it into a kind of practical method ... The result falls somewhere between a campus satire and a Borgesian fever dream, between the conventional dramas of bourgeois realism and the speculative fantasies that animate our alternative selves.
This pastiche novel boldly explores what drives the creative mind: genius, vanity, grief, love, and mental chaos. Ives is a brilliant, one-of-a-kind maestro, leading this complex orchestra with great aplomb. Inhabiting the voices of two fictional writers in addition to her own, she showcases a level of research and specificity uncommon in such entertaining fiction.
To invoke the word metanarrative doesn’t really begin to describe what the author is doing here—at least in part because readers might reasonably debate what the 'narrative' is. Ives has created a novel in which the main character finds release, if not catharsis, in a novella written by another author who is also Ives’ creation ... This work is a commentary on itself, which should feel claustrophobic, but, by the end, readers might come away with the sense that Erin may have escaped this enchanted circle. Not the kind of resolution most readers crave, perhaps, but it’s something. A novel—in the loosest sense of the term—for people who love footnotes.