Manhattan, 2014. It's an unseasonably warm Thursday in November and Erin Adamo is locked out of her apartment. Her husband has just left her and meanwhile her keys are in her coat, which she abandoned at her parents' apartment when she exited mid-dinner after her father—once again—lost control. Erin takes refuge in the library of the university where she is a grad student. Her bag contains two manuscripts she's written, along with a monograph by a faculty member who's recently become embroiled in a bizarre scandal. Erin isn't sure what she's doing, but a small, mostly unconscious part of her knows: within these documents is a key she's needed all along.
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.