Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Fates Will Find Their Way, by Hannah Pittard

Sixteen-year-old Nora Lindell, who looked good in her private school uniform with the knee socks sagging, disappears on Halloween, leaving behind a father and sister, plus a pack of teenage boys who seem unable to recover from the excitement of her disappearance. What actually happened to Nora remains a mystery, but the boys--based on various sightings over the years--create a variety of possible explanations. Perhaps she got into a Catalina with a strange man, who drove her into the woods, where she died trying to escape. Perhaps, having learned she was pregnant after a brief coupling with a public-school boy, she ran away to Arizona, where she married an older Mexican man, gave birth to twin girls, and eventually ran away yet again. Perhaps she was in Mumbai when the bombings occurred, involved in a love affair with a female henna tattoo artist.

Meanwhile, the boys grow up and build ostensibly adult lives. Their fantasies about Nora are intertwined with stories of their "real" lives, from the disastrous mass masturbatory event at the movie night they hosted as seniors in high school, to the sad breakdown of one marriage after three miscarriages. When one of their group dies in prison (where he was confined after molesting another's 13-year-old daughter) and another leaves town to be with Nora's younger sister, the men come to a realization that the lives they have built are their real lives and the day will come when they think of Nora for the last time.

Pittard does what seems to me (a 60-year-old woman) a remarkable job of inhabiting the minds of 16-year-old boys. At times she is so grossly on target that I had to remind myself, as I cringed, that the author was a woman. On the less positive side, the chronological randomness in describing the boys' real lives is confusing (the imagined futures for Nora are much easier to track), and I found the first person plural narrator as ineffective here as in The Weird Sisters. A month ago, I could not have named a novel written from a first person plural perspective, and now I have read two...but hope not to read another any time soon.

Favorite passages:
Often it would take a wife's hand on the shoulder to pull us away from these reveries. "Honey," she might say, "the coals. Are they ready? The kids are hungry." And they would always be tender at these moments, always impossibly understanding, as though they could see our thoughts, read our fears, our worries. Sometimes, it's like they almost understand how overwhelming it all is--to be a man, to be a father, a husband, a human being, responsible for the lives of others.

At the end of the day, we find ourselves somewhat unprepared, standing for a final moment at our bedroom windows, for the obvious realization that this--this, all around us--is our life.

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