I couldn’t resist the hype (or her charming Twitter personality) and have been reading Roxanne Gay’s recent essay collection Bad Feminist. One piece in particular about likable versus unlikeable female characters made me think about reading Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing. In that novel the protagonist Elyria flees her husband and her unfulfilling life with a one-way ticket to New Zealand. She’s not completely unlikeable, but it is hard to like her, if you know what I mean. Elyria is that friend that has bottomed out, the one you feel guilty for not listening to or helping because she’s just a bear to be around. She drags you down. We’ve all had friends like. And we’ve all been that person, too, which is why I felt some empathy for her. Elyria has gone beyond your standard depression into a area if emptiness. She hitch-hikes her way around New Zealand, ignoring the advice of everyone who tells her not to do it. You get the sense that she’s hitch-hiking not for the danger, but because making plans would require her to interact with people, something she’s loath to do.
Why is she fleeing her life, you might ask? There’s back story about her adopted sister killing herself, her lacking-maternal-skills-mother, and a less than compelling husband. You might start feeling a tug in your gut as you read about Elyria’s emptiness, yet the Lacey’s sentences sparkle on the page. It takes a certain skill to write a convincing character like Elyria.
As for Roxanne Gay’s collection, I’ll just say, we’re lucky to have her and her wisdom.