CERTAIN AMERICAN STATES by Catherine Lacey

CERTAIN AMERICAN STATES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Lacey’s (The Answers, 2017) collection of 12 wryly devastating stories, everyone is searching for something, and the cruel truth is that no one ever finds it.

Everyone in Lacey’s stories is losing something or has lost something, and they are brittle with the ordinary pain of grief. In “Please Take,” a recent widow dumps her dead husband’s clothes out onto the sidewalk. “The memory had to go and the shirt had to go, just as days and people had also gone, just as so many tangible and intangible things enter and exit a life,” she thinks. Later, sitting on a bench in the park—a habit, because “habits were helpful, someone told me”—she sees the clothes reanimated, the shirt that had to go now on a stranger. In “Learning,” an artist with a difficult marriage and a job teaching angry law students watercolor reconnects by chance with a guy from college. Then, he’d had what he called a “lying problem”; now, he’s a Christian dad/blogger with a “highly trafficked” website called The Grateful Dad. In “Touching People,” an older widow takes a pair of newlyweds to visit her ex-husband’s grave; “Certain American States” follows a woman to the deathbed of the man who reluctantly raised her and from whom she’s been estranged. In “Family Physics,” the penultimate story in the collection, a woman whose life appears to her family to be unraveling—“in the last three months, I’d gotten married, filed for divorce, moved several times, quit my job, and driven to Montana, where I began working in a grocery store, stocking beans,” she explains—receives a visit from her younger sister, who is now engaged to a much-older man. There is a bleak and relentless sameness to the stories; the tone is so consistent, it is occasionally disorienting, and to read the collection all at once is like driving through an emotional Great Plains. But on a sentence level, the stories are exquisite: Every line is dry and spare and bracing, without a single syllable out of place.

A fully realized vision.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-374-26589-2
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2018




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