Three college friends experiment with an off-the-grid commune in rural Arkansas but struggle to find stability in the Project—or in one another.
Carter’s debut novel explores the crushing blow of the financial crisis on floundering 20-somethings in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where a college degree doesn’t guarantee a good job or a happy future. Ellie is a struggling alcoholic having an affair with her married, older boss, while Chloe falls head over heels for a fair-weather lover. Both women spend their nights slinging drinks atViceroy and wondering if there’s more. When their mutual friend Rachel invites them to move into a dilapidated country house she shares with her gurulike boyfriend, Autry, Chloe and Ellie try to find “peace and health in the chaos of a cruel, disconnected world.” Over the course of a disastrous, slow-motion year, the young women attempt to trade alcohol and dead-end relationships for trance meditation and survivalist philosophy. Like most would-be revolutionaries, Autry winds up to be all talk and no action, and all three women worsen. Ellie retreats further into her destructive behavior; Chloe’s mental health demons put her in danger; and Rachel grows more and more restless. Throughout the novel, Carter’s language is surprising, even tactile. A cold-weather embrace feels like “the beginning of winter in his coat,” while going through the motions of a bad relationship feels like being turned into “a stuffed animal.” But the plot, which alternates among points of view, loses both the thread of Chloe’s voice and the urgency of her breakdown. After a year at the Project, Rachel and Ellie struggle with the idea of normal lives, and Carter seems to suggest this is a symptom, rather than an effect, of the failed Project.
A melancholy, elliptical tale of friendship and alienation in the South.