cover image The Answers

The Answers

Catherine Lacey. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-10026-1

In Lacey’s (Nobody Is Ever Missing) remarkable novel, Mary has “spent a year suffering undiagnosable illnesses” when she finds a strange treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, which immediately helps. The problem is Mary’s broke, so she answers a high-paying Craigslist ad and soon ends up participating in überfamous actor Kurt Sky’s so-called Girlfriend Experiment. The goal of the experiment is to find out whether a perfect relationship can be achieved if each of many girlfriends serves a single role for Kurt. As the Emotional Girlfriend, Mary is to listen “to Kurt talk while remaining fully engaged by asking questions,” to send texts to him, and to eventually cry in front of him. She is told “sexual intimacy will not be expected of the Emotional Girlfriend” since Kurt has the Intimacy Team for that purpose. While Kurt becomes more and more intrigued by the “totally unpretentious” Mary in his attempt to find out “How to best love?”, the truth of the experiment comes to light. The novel examines the unreliability of our own bodies and emotions (at one point, the experiment’s sensors mistakenly register Mary’s feeling of obligation as a feeling of love), as well as our detachment from others—that dark gap between what someone does and what someone actually means to do. Mary is trying to trust her body through Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, while Kurt’s Anger Girlfriend, Ashley, one of the best characters in the novel, only trusts her anger: her hate is “gleeful and all-consuming and an unlikely companion through her days.” Lacey displays an exceptional ability to articulate the elusiveness of knowing others, as well as the desire to find meaning and trust within. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (June)