Nobody is Ever Missing

Catherine Lacey

I had a hard time starting another book after Dust, and I waited a few days before picking up Nobody is Ever Missing. Lacey’s rambling, run-on paragraphs are in every way different from Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s meticulously honed prose, so it was an especially jarring transition. This is also not a complicated book; it’s about a woman who abruptly leaves her decent life in Manhattan with her husband to drift in New Zealand for months. While the character Elyria seems to have some self-awareness on the page, the story is narrated with some distance of time, so it’s much too late to influence her often panicked actions. I feel like the whole story can be summed up with this quote:

… I was too busy running as a way of saying, Fuck you, everything, fuck all of the things forever because I am free, so free, but also I knew that I wasn’t free, because running from something isn’t freedom, it’s just a way to flee, and, sure, the day was what a person talking to another person would call beautiful, but I immediately took it for granted, felt the earth owed me this one warm favor.

(This paragraph is a little spoilery.) What’s frustrating is that Elyria’s eventual transformation is suggested but not shown. She acknowledges that she can’t fix her brain but explains, “I know, now, how to ignore everything, how to not talk to strangers, how to not get on one-way planes to countries where I don’t belong.” While I think there are interesting ideas in Elyria’s rambling, both her physical travels and the ceaseless thoughts she captures, it feels incomplete to leave her still drifting at the end of the book. Showing her at least conceiving a foundation for a stable life is something. I suppose it’s better than an awkwardly-tied-up, happy ending. Or her narrating years of therapy, which you would hope for someone dealing with similar levels of depression even though it wouldn’t be so compelling to read.

Essentially Elyria felt entirely unsympathetic to me, even if she occasionally hit on significant truths. Unexpectedly there was some connection with Dust, as Elyria has a revelation “that nothing exists except the present moment”; in Dust the similar philosophy is stated as “Life is presence.” I suppose a better ending to me would have been showing Elyria beginning to calm down and find her presence — possibly that was Lacey’s intent, but it didn’t succeed for me.