It’s All Bad News, So Make a Balzac Rolodex

The good news?

There is none.

The Guardian: “Bannon appointment deepens fears of racism.”

The New York Times:  “President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition plunged into disarray with the abrupt departures of aides who had handled national security and foreign policy matters.”

Well, I’m going to chill.  I voted for Hillary Clinton, and she won the popular vote. Did my vote count?  I suppose.  Some of my candidates got elected, and that’s the best I could do.

Thank God I don’t have to go through that election again.


A couple of days ago I wrote about how I needed a Balzac rolodex to  keep track of the recurring characters.  My rolodex arrived in the mail today!  It is so much fun to write this information on cards.  So much more fun than spreadsheets, and like the old card catalogues, more efficient once it’s done.

The rolodex would work for any long series.  God knows who all those characters are in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

And I  bought a letter opener to  cut the pages of an old edition of Clara Bell’s translation of Modeste Mignon.  Much easier than cutting the pages with index cards!

I hope you’re having a good Tuesday night!

Stuck! Margot Livesey, Uncut Pages in Old Books, & Post-Election Grief

margot-livesey-jacket-mercuryI’m stuck!

I said I would read one new book a week.

I’ve rejected two in five days.  I’ll write about one today.

I slogged through 208 pages of Margot Livesey’s Mercury,  then skipped to the end.   My conclusion?  Fire the editor.

Livesey is a skillful, likable writer, and at her best she has an extraordinary imagination and a gift for moving a story vigorously forward. In the past her complex characters have included a modern Jane Eyre, an amnesiac, and a heroine with invisible companions.

You can almost see the outline of Mercury.  Like so many novels today, it lacks depth. Livesey’s unobtrusive style usually supports the unfolding of her narrative, but in this case the writing is leaden.

There is a coherent structure, but the narrative seems rushed.  Divided into three parts, the first and third parts of Mercury are narrated by Donald, an unhappy Scottish ophthalmologist in private practice who no longer does surgery.  The  middle part is narrated by his wife Viv, who left a corporate job to co-manage a local stable with her best friend, Claudia.

Donald and Viv’s marriage is disintegrating because their values have changed:  under the influence of a wealthy new friend, Hilary, Viv is pressing to send their son to a private school ($30,000 a year). Donald and Viv have always supported the public schools in their Boston suburb. He resents her neglect of the family as she works longer and longer hours at the stable.

And Viv’s narrative is even sketchier than Donald’s.  She didn’t achieve her goal to be a corporate CEO, so she quit her job in mutual funds.  Now at the stable she behaves like a CEO,  obsessed with training a horse named Mercury, covering up problems from her partner, and focused on winning competitions.  She becomes increasingly paranoid.

I’m not a horsey person, but this plot-oriented novel is not in the same class as Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, mentioned here, Dick Francis’s thrillers, or Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven. It is a weird marriage of literary and pop.  So disappointing, because Livesey is usually so good.

Do you think it a coincidence that two of the characters are named Donald and Hilary?  Well, yes, I do!


When pages are uncut in an old book, what do you do?

Online booksellers say to use an index card. Scissors work better for me. How about a letter opener?

Any suggestions?


I’m still living
in the dream we had,
For me it’s not over…
—Neil Young, “Big Time”

On Day Five after the election, I am still grieving.  It can’t be true…this is my country.

I rattle my pill bottles. Do you think Advil or Clariton would help?  (Homemade vegetable soup was the solution)

People are sad.  People are protesting. And people are desperately signing up for Obamacare before the Affordable Care Act is revoked.  According to Newsweek, more than 100,000 Americans signed up on Wednesday after Donald Trump won the election.

Live through the Nixon years, the Reagan years, and the Bush years, and you realize every generation has to fight over and over for human rights.  It is never over.  We signed the “I’m  Pro-Choice and I Vote” postcards 30 years ago and we still sign them.

One senses a certain Schadenfreude abroad.  Even in London, where I knew no one at all, I encountered anti-American feeling.  A chatty young clerk informed me  that the American governemnt was the worst in the world and that Obama had accomplished nothing. Not only was I the fattest person in the UK, but I had to be an American ambassador. I smiled, briefly praised Obama, and said Clinton would be the next president of the U.S.

Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote.  It’s a very precarious time, but all we can do is hope for the best. Let us hope the Republicans will reach across the aisles…work together with others…  I always have such beautiful dreams.

We can’t give up.

In a 1989 comic strip called “Point the Finger,” R. Crumb compared Donald Trump to Trimalchio, the vulgar millionaire in the Roman novel, Petronius’s Satryricon (which I wrote about   here).

As Crumb said, “And isn’t this a nutty kinda country where you can draw any irreverent, degrading thing about the most powerful people and nobody cares! You don’t get jailed. You don’t get persecuted. They just ice you out of the marketplace.”

All right, peace!  Here are four frames of the comic strip.  Laughter is good for us.

The Balzac Rolodex & a Few Notes on The Chouans

Where's my Balzac rolodex?

Where’s my Balzac rolodex?

I need a Balzac rolodex.

Yes, I am a Balzacian.  I went through a Balzac phase in 2013, and now I’m in another.

I need a rolodex to keep track of the hundreds of characters in Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine, a cycle of approximately 95 novels, stories, and novellas.

Recently I have inhaled  three of the books:   Pere Goriot (a masterpiece:  I wrote about it here), The Chouans (a sentimental historical novel), and A Daughter of Eve  (an entertaining novella in which a megalomaniac journalist exploits the infatuation of a countess and his mistress-actress to found a newspaper).

The same characters often pop up in more than one novel.  Rastignan, whom we first meet in Pere Goriot as a poor law student intent on clawing his way up the ladder of high society through a love affair and connections, has a cameo role in A Daughter of Eve as the friend of the obnoxious journalist, Raoul Nathan. And Hulot, the smart Republican commander of  The Chouans, also appears in Cousin Bette (my favorite Balzac). (N.B. Both Rastignac and Hulot appear in other novels, too.)

There is a very helpful Balzac site,, created by Dagny (Madame Vauquer), to support the reading of the complete works by a Balzac group at Yahoo.    She has posted an excellent list of recurring characters, but one has to scroll down and down and down.   A rolodex would be easier and quicker: one major character per card and the titles of the books in which he/she appears.  So like graduate school, no?

Am I reading the books in order?  No.  Some of the books are masterpieces, others are very slight (at least in translation.)   Start with one of the classics, like Pere Goriot, Cousin Bette, or Lost Illusions.


the-chouans-balzac-9780140442601-usA few years ago I found a 50-cent Penguin copy of The Chouans  at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale.   I finally knuckled under and read this novel of the French Revolution, set in 1799.

Marion Ayton Crawford translated several volumes of Balzac for Penguin, including my favorite, Cousin Bette.  But  her translation of this 1829 historical novel  is very awkward.   Perhaps Balzac’s prose is rough in this early novel–I don’t read French.  And the influence of the romantic historical novels of Sir Walter Scott  may or may not be a plus for you.  (It was not for me.)

Balzac can be brilliant and polished, or lose himself in exposition.   That is the case in  the opening of  The Chouans,  where he devotes two and a half pages to descriptions of the costumes of the peasant royalists who have risen up in Brittany against the Republicans.

Here is an excerpt:

Some of the peasants, the majority indeed, went barefoot and were clad each only in a great goatskin, which reached from neck to  knees, and breeches of very coarse white cloth, whose rough badly-trimmed yarn was evidence of the region’s lack of  interest in industrial skills. Their long lank locks seemed part and parcel of the hair of their goatskins and hid their downcast faces so completely that at a first glance it was easy to imagine the goatskins to be their own pelt, and confuse these wretches with the animals that clothed them.

It’s not Vogue!

Balzac explains the peasants are nicknamed the  Chouans because they copy the hoots of barn-owls (Chuins) as warnings of ambush.  They are led by a French aristocrat, the Marquis de Montauran. He is a bit of dandy, but the men love him.

I find Napoleon’s Republicans more sympathetic than the Chuans–because of their clothes! (No, I made that up.)  I adore Hulot, the commander of the Republicans.  He is a smart, savvy soldier with a deep knowledge and experience of military strategies.  He immediately figures out that something is wrong when a  peasant named Marche-a-Terre shows up and dawdles in the middle of nowhere.

But most of the novel is devoted to a romance.  Marie de Vermeuill comes from Paris with a letter giving her command over Hulot, who temporarily resigns.   She is on a special mission to… Well, I won’t give it away. But at an inn she meets Marquis de Montauran (in disguise) and his companion Madame du Gua (who poses as his mother).  Marie and Maontauran fall in love… and the rest of the book is SO silly.

Moderately entertaining, but so badly written/translated!

Don’t start with this. You will be very disappointed.  And yet so much of Balzac is so very, very good.

I will write soon on A Daughter of Eve, which I much preferred.

Balzac is great escape reading.  If you’re depressed after the election, do read him.

William Gibson’s Neuromancer

neuromancer-penguin-galaxy-556df0886068133afc3c967e7ee28c22The new Penguin Galaxy series is a collection of six hardcover science fiction classics:  T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, & William Gibson’s Neuromancer.  These beautifully-designed books with literally glittering titles are a good incentive to explore science fiction.  I highly recommend Dune, an ecological classic (which I wrote about here) and The Left Hand of Darkness (which I wrote about here).   Neil Gaiman’s introduction is reprinted in each volume.

I recently reread William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the 1984 cyberpunk classic that won the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.

We’re not quite where Gibson thought we’d be, and thank God for that. But before cell phones and the internet, he described a high-tech world of hackers, cyberaddiction, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, war games, and a dangerous divide between rich and poor. Gibson is a visionary, and his flamboyant language is like SF noir on acid.

This action-packed novel had a huge impact on “cyberpunk” science fiction.  And, in a strange way, the bleak atmosphere and lost, desperate quality of the hero remind me of another 1984 novel, Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.  Could the two books be more different?  No, and yet…

But of course this is SF, and Gibson’s hero is a hacker, not a fact-checker.

Neil Gaiman gives the background in the introduction:

Neuromancer is sui generis, while at the same time having a direct and solid science-fiction lineage:  an unholy fusion of Samuel R. Delany’s prose and world-building and Alfred Bester’s narrative fireworks. Above all, Gibson heeds Raymond Chandler’s observation that when writing a pulp adventure, ‘the demand was for constant action:  if you stopped to think, you were lost.  When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.’  In Neuromancer, men come through the door, and women too, and things not always human, all with weapons in their hands.  We never stop to think.  It’s safer that way.

A very '80s William Gibson/

A very ’80s William Gibson.

The hero of Neuromancer, Henry Case, is a former hacker on a suicidal downward spiral in Chiba City, Japan.  His career in the Sprawl is dead and he is down and out: he stole money via computer from his bosses, and as a punishment they destroyed his nervous system.  Now he deals and takes drugs to survive and sleeps in a rented coffin.    And he is doing so many drug deals that even the bartender with the antique artificial arm knows he has a death wish.

The language is impressionistic and often hallucinatory. The events are also dream-like.  When Case hears from his ex-girlfriend, Linda, that his drug distributor boss, Wage, wants to kill him, he runs.  There is an eerie chase scene in an arcade, though who is chasing him he doesn’t know.  And he knows he’s crazy, because he is elated.

Because, in some weird and very approximate way, it was like a run in the matrix.  Get just wasted enough, find yourself in some desperate but strangely arbitrary kind of trouble, and it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties.  Then you could throw yourself into a high-speed drift

And then he is hired, i.e., forced to work, by Armitage, an ex-colonel with no affect who was traumatized by a mission in Russia.  Case is bribed by the promise of neurosurgery so he can once again work as a hacker.  All is well except for one thing:  a poison sac is inserted to wreck his pancreas if he doesn’t finish the job in time.  And he does not even know what the job is.

Case and his colleague, Molly, a samurai warrior with weird implants, save each other multiple times.  Another colleague is a computer program copy of the brain of the dead best hacker he ever worked with, McCoy Paulie.

Sound complicated?  Well, yes, it is. Do I know exactly what is happening all the time?  No. Is it Gibson’s best book?  It is great.  My own favorite is Zero History, an SF thriller about postmodern marketing, fashion brands, and corrupt American military contractors.

I never realized that  Neuromancer was the first of a trilogy.  More great SF to read.

Ethelinde by Charlotte Smith, edited by Ellen Moody

charlotte-smith-ethelindeNow that the election is over…

One good thing happened!

Today I received in the mail a copy of 18th-century novelist Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, edited and with an introduction and notes by my friend Ellen Moody.  This beautiful paperback is published by Valancourt Books.

According to the jacket copy, Smith (1749-1806), the author of 10 novels, wrote to support herself and her 10 children after her husband was imprisoned for debt.

In the introduction, Ellen  compares it to Anna Karenina.  Here’s a brief excerpt from the introduction:

Ethelinde is centered on a depiction of adulterous love more sympathetic and true to experience on the sides of both the novel’s hero, Sir Edward Newenden and his once loved wife, Maria, Lady Newenden, than what is found in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  It is the story of Newenden’s gradual falling in love with Ethelinde Chesterville, the novel’s primary heroine, his physical as well as emotional need for her in the face of his wife’s increasing distaste for him, for his idealistic and ethical values, and for his children; of his efforts to repress his longing for the congenial, sensitive, readerly Ethelinde; and of the final thwarting of his intensely compelling and sexual desire for Ethelinde.

Ellen is a superb writer and blogger and an expert on 18th century literature.  You can read her work at Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two and Reveries under the Sign of Austen, Two.

More on this later!

A Patriot’s Grief

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton gives her concession speech, Nov. 9, 2016.

I didn’t cry, but I felt grief when I saw the election results.  I have passed the day in a state of blankness.

Clinton waited till this morning to give her concession speech.  At first I thought it an odd decision, but in retrospect it was smart. It stopped us looking for answers on the internet that just aren’t there. Listening to her at 10:30 a.m., I was impressed by her eloquence and common sense.  And I wondered whence the myth was born that this brilliant, pretty woman is unlikable?  Powerful American women don’t get a break.

I felt sustained by her words, and also realized how seldom I see women in strong roles even in the twenty-first century.    (On TV and in movies they are perpetually dissolving in tears.)  Mind you, I’m fine with crying,  but I don’t want to shed any tears for being a feminist patriot in the year when Americans inexplicably elected  Trump and the Republicans.  (The good news:  even George W. Bush didn’t vote for Trump.  He left the top part of the ballot blank.)

Clinton urges us to hold on to our ideals and never give up working for what we believe in. And she reminds us of the need for a peaceful transfer of power.

Here is an excerpt from her stunning speech.

I know how disappointed you feel, because I feel it too. And so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful, and it will be for a long time. But I want you to remember this.

Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.

Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.

We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.

We’ve lived through other Republican regimes, and we’ll survive this one, too.  Obama has invited Trump to the White House.  Let’s hope they can work together, because, as Hillary’s slogan says,


Election Day in the Age of Global Warming: Hillary Clinton, Gravitas, & Obama’s Basketball


It’s a beautiful day in the Age of Global Warming, 60 degrees, sunny.  We are having an informal “eclectic-election” party in the backyard, and I’ve been lolling on an Adirondack chair swigging Diet Coke.   My cousin snuck inside to check her phone, which we forbade her to bring outside.

“It’s too early for the news!”

On the one hand I am confident that Hillary Clinton will be our next president, on the other hand I am  apprehensive about the alternative.   If Hillary wins, this is a historic day for the U.S.   She will be our first woman president, and  can you believe it has taken almost 100 years?  The 19th amendment (women’s suffrage) was ratified in 1920.

If the alternative happens, I will read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here.

But that won’t happen.

Yet, oddly, it is Obama, not Clinton, who has the power to move me.  I teared up this morning when I read  a New York Times article,  “‘Fired Up’ Obama Makes Final Push for Clinton, and His Legacy,” about Obama’s campaigning for Hillary in Ann Arbor yesterday.  Here’s an excerpt from the article.

“I already voted,” he added. “I voted for Hillary Clinton, because I am absolutely confident that when she is president, this country will be in good hands — and I’m asking you to do the same.”-

“I love you!” supporters kept shouting at the president as he turned serious to lay out the stakes of an extraordinary race.

“I love you back — I do,” Mr. Obama said in Michigan. “But tomorrow, you will choose whether we continue this journey of progress, or whether it all goes out the window.”

Why did I tear up?  It’s a rock concert thing, yelling “I love you!” But I realized that I, too, love Obama, and  it’s not a word I use lightly:  I am beyond enjoying wispy love lyrics of rock songs. I think very little about politics, but out of the corner of my eye and ear I have had faith in his judgment and gravitas.  Who else could have passed the Affordable Care Act?  God knows, others , including Hillary, have tried. He is brilliant and eloquent. He is popular.  He took over the government in the mess after the financial crash of 2008.  He is, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, a great role model.  He reads.  His conversation with Marilynne Robinson was published in The New York Review of Books.  He exercises.

President Barack Obama carries a pair of sneakers as he arrives for a private game of basketball at Fort McNair in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Playing basketball on election day is a tradition for Obama. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) ORG XMIT: DCPM107

President Barack Obama arrives for a private game of basketball at Fort McNair in Washington.

This morning Obama played basketball with friends at Ft. McNair in Washington:  it is one of his election rites.  He  played basketball on every election day when he ran for president.   And this time he’s playing basketball for Clinton.

My husband thinks it would be a good idea if we all  played basketball today.  I took a walk instead, because I am not good at sports involving throwing round objects.

I’m one of the leftists (left-middleists?  middle-leftists?) who has rallied behind Hillary Clinton, because Bernie Sanders’ campaign was just a beautiful dream, and Clinton will continue the great work of Obama, who has been the best president of my lifetime. I didn’t sign on to be a grown-up, mind you, it just happened. Voting for the better candidate is part of being an adult.   Secretary of State, Senator, First Lady: Clinton has gravitas.

I’m waiting for the results!

peace signs yike8dMpT

The Dickens Set I Didn’t Sell & Three Literary Links

My Dickens set!

The Dickens set

For weeks I intended to go to Half Price Books, the only used bookstore in town, one of a 120-store Texas-based chain.  I wanted to try to sell my Folio Society five-book Dickens set (1985).

The problem was my husband wanted to divvy the Dickens up in our panniers and bike there.  I wasn’t enthusiastic about biking with ten or more pounds of hardbacks.  And so weeks went by, but I finally persuaded him it was worth a trip in the car (we seldom take the car). We weren’t even sure we would sell the Dickens, because they used to pay a laughable 25 cents per paperback.  I had in my mind a lowball price beneath which I would not go.

Many people sell their books at Half Price Books.  Stacks and stacks of romances and vampire books were piled on the counter.   People wheeled them in on dollies.   More kept coming in.

They offered me $10.  I declined.

Well, I didn’t expect much, but I did expect more than $2 per book.  It’s a set, in excellent condition. At a garage sale I might sell it for $20.   On Abebooks the lowest price is $79.  I’d rather give it to the Planned Parenthood Book Sale than Half Price Books.

Heavens, I see why people sell them online!

Does anybody sell books online?  Do you have good experiences?


1. The Literary Hub recently published the article, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump:  What Do They Read?”   Who has good taste?  Who does not?  Clinton recommends The Brothers Karamazov and The Clan of the Cave Bear,  while Trump doesn’t have much time to read, except his own book.  (Obama is a more literary reader.)

brothers-karamazov-51hgj-nc7bl-_sx312_bo1204203200_2. The classicist Mary Beard recently wrote  about Max Beerbohm’s novel, Zuleika Dobson, at A Don’s Life her blog at the TLS.   (Statues of Roman emperors play a part.)  I must admit  Zuleika Dobson is one of the more misogynist novels I’ve read, but  her lively essay makes me want to reread it.  Here is an excerpt.

The story is a simple one. It tells of the young, exotically named, and stunningly good looking Zuleika who arrives among the dreaming spires to stay with her grandfather, who is the head of the semi-fictional Judas College. Not only does Zuleika herself fall in love for the first time; but all the male undergraduates fall in love with her. Literally all of them: and so badly in love that they end up killing themselves for her, every single one. At the end of the novel the unworldly dons seem hardly to have noticed that the students are all dead (even though the dining hall is strangely empty); meanwhile on the very last page, Zuleika is found making inquiries about how best to get to Cambridge . . . and it’s not too hard to guess what will happen there. It’s a satire not only on the dangers of women, but also on the madness of this masculine university world.

zuleika-dobson-beerbohm-zd3. The stunning novel La Femme de Gilles, by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, translated by Faith Evans, is one of the 10 Must-Read Books for November at Flavorwire.  On May 26 I wrote at this blog,

The Belgian writer Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s exquisite first novel, La Femme de Gilles, published in 1937 and translated by Faith Evans in 1992, explores the pain of adultery. It is told mainly from the point of view of Elisa, the faithful wife who is in love with her handsome husband Gilles, a factory worker.

We don’t think of working-class marriages in fiction as erotic. In most working-class novels, marriages are exhausting and unhappy: in D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Paul’s refined mother despises her coal miner husband; in Hariettte Simpson Arnow’s The Dollmaker, Gertie’s factory worker husband squanders her savings; and in Tillie Olsen’s Yonnondio, Jim works in a slaughterhouse and beats his wife and children.


Catherine Lacey’s Nobody Is Ever Missing

nobody-is-ever-missing-catherine-lacey-51-h5uhfejl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Sometimes even the most gorgeously-written of contemporary novels wear me down.  This year, in the course of trying to read more new books, I have discovered that talented millennial women  often hamper their narratives by affecting ennui.  I wonder, Why are their heroines so wispy? What does feminism mean to young women?  And what are the authors trying to say?

Catherine Lacey’s elegant, spiky novel, Nobody Is Ever Missing, is the third debut novel I have read this year with an almost self-parodically self-destructive heroine.  Emma Cline’s The Girls is the best of the three, the narrative shifting  back and forth between the heroine Evie’s present existence as a caregiver/housesitter to her memories of a summer in the ’60s when she was  peripherally involved with a Manson-like cult.  Natasha Staggs’ Surveys is another brilliant novel, the story of an underemployed college graduate who goes from working in a mall survey office to internet fame after becoming involved with an almost-famous person online.

catherine-lacey-96c33e_5257b3bd3d2c1e43a297161162a0feaeLacey’s uneven Nobody Is Ever Missing is the least effective of the three.  She writes long, lyrical, winding sentences, a cross between Kerouac and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.  The narrator, Elyria, a brittle woman named after a town in Ohio,  leaves her life in Manhattan and gets on a plane for New Zealand without telling anyone.

Why does she leave?  Well, that’s not quite clear. It seems Elyria, a soap opera writer, has not been the same since her adopted Korean sister Ruby committed suicide six years ago. She married the math professor who was the last person to see her sister alive, though her alcoholic mother pointed out that this was not the best foundation for a relationship.   The couple are happy briefly, but the marriage deteriorates:  they fight all the time, their good memories are consumed by their differences, and in her husband’s sleep he is often bizarrely violent.

So what happens to Elyria in New Zealand?  Well, nothing much. In New York she was upper-middle-class (or upper?); now she is a bum.  She hitchhikes.  She stays with a poet on his farm, but he kicks her out, because she is too troubled even for him.  She befriends a transgender woman, but any relationship is too much pressure.  Elyria runs deeper into solitude, sleeping on the beach, in a shed, and then settling for months in a caravan outside the cabin of a generous vegetarian hippie couple, Luna and Amos.  By the end of the novel, Elyria has fallen to the bottom tier of society.   She wants to be missing to herself.

Here is one of Lacey’s beautiful sentences, describing Elyria’s depressed thoughts.

And after I had deleted my history on Amos’s computer I realized that even if no one ever found me, and even if I lived out the rest of my life here, always missing, forever a missing person to other people, I could never be missing to myself, I could never delete my own history, and I would always know exactly where I was and where I had been and I would never wake up not being who I was and it didn’t matter how much or how little I thought I understood the mess of myself, because I would never, no matter what I did, be missing to myself and that was what I had wanted all this time, to go fully missing, but I would never be able to go fully missing—nobody is missing like that, no one has ever had that luxury and no one ever will.

The reviewers were enthusiastic about this novel, and many of you may be, but I am not.  Lacey can write beautifully, and sometimes she does, but her sentences are often purple prose.  And I do not comprehend the narrator’s wish to go  missing, which must be very uncomfortable after living on the West Side.  This uneven book, published in 2014, has its points, but is far from the best new book I’ve read this year.