The Paris Review

The Answers Are Not Important: An Interview With Catherine Lacey

Catherine Lacey (Photo by Daymon Gardner)

I read Catherine Lacey’s first novel, the gorgeously despondent Nobody Is Ever Missing, in a gulp. It unfolds like a hungry gasp. Nothing much happens really: one day, Elyria takes off for New Zealand to visit a poet who had once extended an offhand invitation. In sentences that hurt you with their icy precision—that make you envious of their implacable beauty—Lacey stages a woman’s internal disintegration as though it were an especially potent bit of performance art. 

Her second novel The Answers has an almost sci-fi premise: an actor hires women to play out distilled threads of a relationship, i.e., the Anger Girlfriend, the Maternal Girlfriend, the Intellectual Girlfriend, the Intimacy Team of Girlfriends. Mary signs up for the “income-generating experience” of playing the Emotional Girlfriend, because she needs to generate income. Like Elyria, she is desperate—for a cure, for reprieve, for release. In many ways, The Answers is a more plot-driven novel than Lacey’s first, but its title is ironic: answers are not possible, resolutions a misbegotten fantasy.

In her new collection of short stories, Certain American States, Lacey’s characters are in mourning, aggrieved, disappointed by life and hurt by death. “You are still alive, so you have to keep living. That’s all you can

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