Somewhat aimless in design, Casey's first fiction drags on over the course of one summer and never earns its final discovery of "the elusive beauty of the world."
Full of its narrator's self-pity, this sour little novel glances at the various horrors of popular culture: shopping malls, TV commercials, Scientology, rock lyrics, gated communities, road rage—all filler in Casey's attenuated vision. At the narrative core is a common slacker tale: a thirtysomething college graduate, loveless and jobless, leaves San Francisco to live with her divorced mother back home in nowhere Illinois. While Adeline, divorced for some 25 years, is determined to find love, compulsively dating available men, her daughter Isabelle is still recovering "from trying to make a life" independent of home. Isabelle temps for an agency as a consumer spy, changing her look for each assignment—not much of a problem, since she lacks a strong identity to begin with. She soon falls into an uncertain relation with her old high-school boyfriend, a community college dropout who manages the local cineplex, and into an even stranger companionship with the old fellow who lives across the street in an empty house. Raymond, who dreamt of Hollywood in his youth, spends most of his time spying on Isabelle and Adeline, and watches TV with Isabelle when her mother is on a date. Isabelle considers him "a fellow spaceman" who makes her feel normal and fulfills her fatherly needs—this despite her awkward pass at him. Isabelle, of course, blames her mother (and her deceptions) for all her troubles, including her essential cluelessness. The series of dramatic revelations near the end seem forced, as if the author were imposing direction on a narrative that would be better off drifting.
Complete with fortune-cookie wisdom and a highway psychic, Casey's debut, like so many other domestic novels, feels dazed and confused.