The Answers by Catherine Lacey, review by Sarah Bagby
Whiting Award winner Catherine Lacey’s second novel, The Answers, is ambitious. Her needy protagonist is one we could easily dismiss; she has chronic pain, lives way beyond her meager means, and is emotionally drained. So, why are we engaged with the single twenty-something travel agent assistant? The answer is that Catherine Lacey is an amazing stylist, infusing humor and empathy into a beguiling intellectual narrative.
Having escaped a repressive and isolated evangelist upbringing, Mary travels the world before landing in New York. With no diagnosis or relief from a medical doctor, she tries all kinds of methods in search of a treatment to alleviate her chronic pain. She finally meets Ed, whose novel treatment both helps and is unaffordable to the underpaid, underemployed young woman.
Desperate, Mary answers an ad promising lots of money. She is selected to be part of “The Boyfriend Project” being conducted for a vapid superstar named Kurt.
The pseudo-scientific project follows five women who are hired to fill various needs for their employer: There is an anger girlfriend, an intellectual girlfriend, a maternal girlfriend, an intimacy girlfriend, and Mary is hired as the emotional girlfriend. She follows strict guidelines and scripts to elicit emotional feelings from Kurt.
Despite a complicated and intellectual conceit, Lacey's second novel doesn’t deliver answers, but it does take the reader on a heartfelt and amusing journey into how we get lost and find ourselves, the compartmentalization of our lives, and where we find family.
Sarah's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. To listen to the review, click HERE.