Posts Tagged ‘Catherine Lacey’

‘Certain American States’ by Catherine Lacey – Modern Stories with Some Wicked Twists


‘Certain American States’ by Catherine Lacey (2018) – 190 pages

The loneliness of certain American states is enough to kill a person if you look too closely.”

If you are searching for something new and different in fiction, you might try Catherine Lacey. I’m at the point where I would rather read her disordered unpredictable stories in ‘Certain American States’ than the simpler more straightforward sincere stories of someone else. This is my first encounter with Lacey’s work, but it won’t be my last.

It is not that her subject matter is so weird or different. These stories usually start out as direct stories of modern life. Perhaps Lacey describes her subject matter best in her story “Small Differences” with the phrase “the conditional and imperfect nature of human-on-human love,”

It is clear now that Nathan and I have always had just enough respect for each other to withstand a mutual disrespect.”

You only learn who you’ve married after it’s too late, like one of those white mystery taffies you have to eat to find the flavor, and even then, it’s just a guess.”

So what makes Catherine Lacey’s stories so peculiar? It is the outlandish unpredictable twists that occur along the way. None of the stories are written in chronological order but skip around as needed to heighten their impact. Also Lacey writes superb, occasionally extraordinarily long, sentences. These are the kind of sentences and stories you want to read more than once to capture their full meaning. In fact the first sentence in the first story is nearly two pages, nearly perfect except the editor of my edition left out a ‘to’ early in the sentence.

But sometimes Lacey uses short sentences effectively too. Here is a fine example of Catherine Lacey’s unique voice from her story “Because You Have To”. Here is a young woman’s interior monologue to the guy who has recently left her:

You have been calling and hanging up.

I know it’s you. The telephone rings differently when you call.

You can’t tell me I don’t recognize this. You have no idea what I hear, but it is so like you to doubt me, to assume I’m wrong. It is so like you to not be here, and to call as if to point out your absence and to say nothing just to frustrate me.”

A reader can never tell if Catherine Lacey is serious, and it is probably wise for you to assume she is not.

My main complaint with Lacey’s works here is a a lazy one. These stories each contain so much that they are simply exhausting. A reader shouldn’t have to work this hard in order to enjoy a story. These are the kind of stories that you may want to re-read, but that you may also need to reread in case you have missed a key point. Even in the stories that misfired for me there were a sense of humor and plenty of interesting ideas.

I am going to end with a quote about Catherine Lacey’s stories from novelist Anne Enright:

Although Lacey’s work can be sad, it is rarely monotone, never earnest. Her stories are profoundly playful and piercingly good. You don’t have to read them, but you really should.” – Anne Enright, The Guardian



Grade : A-


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