Bitches be Crazy in ‘Nobody is Ever Missing’

I cry more during commercials than I do at real life events. Though I’m a social person I sometimes request a time out from my family and friends and spend entire days wandering around the city by myself. Sometimes when I’m holding a wine glass I’m tempted to throw it against the wall just to hear it smash. The people who know me best don’t think my behavior is crazy or at least they’ve never told me so.

In the last quarter of Catherine Lacey’s excellent Nobody is Ever Missing her protagonist Elyria is made to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to account for her decision to leave her husband and Upper West Side life to go live with a stranger in New Zealand. In New Zealand she hitchhikes,  gets into cars with strange men, sleeps in parks and in sheds. Do these things make her crazy? You can make an argument that the violent hallucinations/fantasies she describes make her crazy. But the rest of it just kind of makes her a hippie. Crying during commercials, going to the opposite end of the world so you can be alone; feeling too much and wanting a different life – that’s not crazy.

Mental illness, or the possibility of it floats through the book. A large part of Elyria’s sadness, her despair and desire to escape, comes from the death of her sister by suicide. Her sister was a genius and one of the students of the man who would be come Elyria’s husband. The husband who himself lost a mother to suicide. The women in this book do crazy things, they hurt themselves and others and the husband’s insistence on a psych evaluation for Elyria could be read as genuine concern if he hadn’t also cut off her financial resources and left her without a place to live when she did make the decision to return. Elyria’s own mother is an alcoholic and so no refuge is to be found there.

The crazy thing is that the husband who dares call Elyria crazy is himself a bit of a nutter. Elyria mentions, casually, that her husband gets night terrors that sometimes end with him violently assaulting her. Holding her throat and not letting go. But he apologizes after, and Elyria never thought to apologize for disappearing so perhaps that’s the different.

Are you a harm to yourself or to others? Many of the characters in Lacey’s novel are a yes. But Elyria? Maybe she just needed to hear a  bit of a smash. No harm in that.

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