Book Review: The Fates Will Find Their Way

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It’s been a good reading week. Two books that have been burning a hole on my to-read list finished. First, You Know When the Men Are Gone, reviewed here. And now, Hannah Pittard’s The Fates Will Find Their Way.

Like Fallon’s collection of short stories, The Fates Will Find Their Way is a fairly quick read. But I think a more complicated read. If you haven’t read all of the buzz on the blogosphere about this book, it’s an account of a teenage girl’s disappearance, and the lingering effects of that disappearance. That actually sounds like a fairly familiar story. I think of The Virgin Suicides, or The Lovely Bones, though in those books, we find out what happened to the girls in some sense. In this novel, the story is told from the plural perspective of the teenage boys who knew Nora Lindell, the girl who disappeared. It is as if the Greek chorus wrote a novel. The boys are visible as individuals, bobbing up into the specific details of their own lives. But the narrative voice is all the boys themselves. What a very interesting idea.

I have to say, this narrative device works for me. There seems to be something appropriately plural about the voice of teenage boys. It becomes less plausible for me as they age into adulthood. Especially in this world where people so rarely stay in the same place, it’s hard for me to imagine them staying together as a coherent voice. And as their lives divert. Some stay married. Some do not. Some never get married. How can those experiences still be plural?

At the same time, I like the moments that are the most plural and the most abstract sometimes. The passage at the very end of the book where the group of men collectively stand in their bedrooms, waiting for their wives to finish up in the kitchen and come upstairs to bed. They look out the window and think about their own deaths. And they think about their own deaths in light of Nora Lindell, the teenage girl who disappeared all those years ago.  Death for these men becomes nothing more complicated than the end of all their thoughts about that missing girl.

What this makes me wonder is, what is it with men and the dead or disappeared girl of their childhood? I feel like I’ve read several novels on this same theme, though I confess I can’t think of them right now. The Virgin Suicides would certainly fit in this genre. I wonder if this wasn’t the question that Pittard sat down to solve in this novel. The men are haunted by Nora Lindell. Haunted by her and their own imaginations. They imagine where she was. They imagine what might have happened. They collectively nurse her memory and their stories in the face of the disapproval of their wives and their mothers. The missing girl occupies a large space in their fantasy life. What is that about?

It’s a creepy thing to me. Definitely creepy. The novel is saved by the niggling suspicion on the part of the collective men that they are, in fact, creepy. It is haunted by their awareness of their creepiness.  One of them goes to prison for having sex with a minor–the minor being the daughter of one of the other men. One of the other teenage girls they knew was raped, by a man who we presume is not part of the collective voice. As much as these men are haunted by the missing Nora Lindell, they are also haunted by what it means to be a man. But this ghost, the ghost of all the wrongs that men have done, seems less interesting to them than Nora Lindell. Which is probably not that surprising.

A Greek chorus

Hannah Pittard, as far as I know, is not a man. But she does a convincing job of writing as a collective of them. Or she does a job that seems convincing to me. But I have not lived as a man. I am puzzled by the way in which for these collective men, their fantasy life with Nora Lindell at times seems more real and important to them than anything else they are doing. It is only at the end that they come to the realization that this is their life. Not Nora. Not that fantasy, but what they have now. And at that point, they’re in their late forties or fifties? My husband and I jokingly tell our daughter that, if she decides to date men, she really shouldn’t bother with them until about the age of 39. It’s mostly a joke, but I’m wondering if 39 might be too young.  Does it really take that long for men to see the lives in front of them as real rather than the fantasy of a long-missing girl from their adolescence?

The Fates Will Find Their Way leaves me wondering if this is really what it’s like to live inside the minds of men. And feeling slightly disturbed if Hannah Pittard got it right.

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