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.