It’s very weird to say you didn’t particularly care for a novel because most of the story wasn’t “real.” What? You didn’t like a fictional book because it wasn’t real? It sounds like just about the dumbest thing to say ever. Well, besides “it is what it is.” We can all agree that’s the dumbest thing to say ever, right?
But back to this unreal fictional book that I didn’t particularly care for. The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard is, ostensibly, about the disappearance of 16-year-old Nora Lindell. The boys in her town become obsessed with Nora and what could have happened to her, and it’s their narrative of this event and the fallout that provides the voice of the book.
It’s told in the first person plural, we did, we felt, we thought. It’s a bold choice for an author to make and as a reader I rarely find this point of view satisfying to read. I can think of one exception to prove my rule, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffry Eugenides. Speaking of that, it was hard to read Pittard’s novel about another lost girl and the group of boys who longed for her without wishing it was The Virgin Suicides.
But, sadly, it is not. Instead The Fates Will Find Their Way is a muddled series of every more preposterous maybe this happened to Nora. The boys spend the rest of their lives dreaming up what might have happened to their missing classmate. Maybe she died by the river two counties away after being abducted, maybe she ran off to Arizona, maybe she’s in Mumbai with a lesbian lover.
Maybe, I don’t care. Oh wait, no maybe about it, I don’t care. Here’s where the fact that the story wasn’t real bothered me. I knew that the boys’ imaginings weren’t what happened to Nora, so I was never invested in these stories (which take up a good portion of the book). The imagined fate of Nora wasn’t even true to the fictional world of the story. It was too much fiction within fiction. Hard to swallow. In fact, reading this often felt like being cornered at a bar by the one drunk who wants to tell you their life story when you have no emotional investment at all in them or the story or the people populating their story.
Interspersed with the whatever happend to Nora Lindell stories are other stories about the boys growing up. We follow them from high school to middle age. From jerking off to “9 1/2 Weeks” to men with wives and children. These were hard to follow, because even though many of the boys were named I couldn’t keep them straight so their tragedies felt nebulous. The boys were interchangeable, maybe owing to the first person plural point of view, so when one’s mother dies or another’s wife has trouble conceiving a baby, it was hard to care.
Usually I don’t finish books I don’t enjoy but this one was intrigued me enough to wallow through. I kept hoping for an aha moment, for the point of it all, for the story to present a single shining truth, a reason for existence. I never found that.