Without telling her family, Elyria takes a one-way flight to New Zealand, abruptly leaving her stable but unfulfilling life in Manhattan. As her husband scrambles to figure out what happened to her, Elyria hurtles into the unknown, testing fate by hitchhiking, tacitly being swept into the lives of strangers, and sleeping in fields, forests, and public parks. Her risky and often surreal encounters with the people and wildlife of New Zealand propel Elyria deeper into her deteriorating mind.
...[an] exhausting yet propulsive debut ... We are in the company of a mind relentlessly interrogating itself, in the tradition of Beckett and now Eimear McBride, but with its own singular flavour ... Catherine Lacey keeps the narrative perspective strictly internal, making the reader experience rather than observe the book’s events. Though there are suggestions of mental illness in Elyria’s paranoia and fears of psychic contamination, the book’s main motors – how to accommodate emotional damage within a relationship; the ongoing present tense of bereavement and family trauma; the question of how much solitude will drive any given individual crazy – are universal. Painful it may be, but the book is also wry, surprising and blackly funny, a queasily intimate travelogue of inner and outer journeys. In her portrait of a mind under pressure, tying itself in knots, hovering between overwhelming sensation and disassociated numbness, Lacey has produced a novel of uncomfortable power.
...[a] laser smart, affecting, confounding, recalcitrant, infuriating, relentlessly stylish debut novel ... If you believe that storytelling begins with a character who wants and needs something and must face obstacles in order to get it, Catherine Lacey means to defy your expectations ... Using short chapters to stop for breath, Lacey stacks clause upon clause with unerring rhythm, one of those glorious gifts that not everyone’s been given and guided by that fabulous inner ear she teases out assonances and upends predictable constructions, modulating her phrases with repetitions, inversions, and tautly-strung wit, the novel propelled by sentences that wind their way inward before springing back out with renewed velocity ... Because Elyria wants nothing, and nothing is capable of causing her to change, Lacey is forced to find new ways of saying the same thing over and over. From this absence she pulls at strand after strand of remarkable prose, but a time comes when matters grow more dire and emptiness threatens to collapse on itself and yet above it all Lacey continues to pull more colored streamers from her sleeve.
...this particular book satisfies all my inchoate readerly impulses—including the primary one of getting out of my own skin and into someone else’s—in a way that, say, Donna Tartt’s more explicitly pitched The Goldfinch decidedly does not ... Nobody is Ever Missing has its longueurs, to be sure, and some of its lineaments seem a bit wobbly—I was never quite persuaded of the reality of Elyria’s New York life. But it is never less than strikingly original. By the novel’s end—which is blessedly free of even a whiff of so-called closure...we have reached the idiosyncratic heart of the human mystery: we know this person profoundly well, but she might surprise us at any minute ... Lacey has written a postmodern existential novel ... I was excited by its sustained attunement to the disjunctive universe its protagonist inhabits, and the way the writer nimbly hop-skips around, cutting squibs of arresting dialogue into the meditative sections and gimlet-eyed details ... Lacey is a very gifted writer and thinker, and if this is what post-wounded women sound like—diffident about the pain of being alive, funny and dead-on about the obstacles to being their best selves—I say bring ’em on.