Sitting in a small, white room, a lady spies what she believes is a two-way mirror. “It depressed me to assume that I may need been taking a look at one other particular person however seeing solely myself,” remarks Mary Parsons, the protagonist of Catherine Lacey’s complicated and haunting second novel, The Solutions. She is making use of for a job within the Girlfriend Experiment, a challenge whereby a workforce of ladies will function girlfriends to 1 man, an egotistical New York actor-filmmaker named Kurt Sky, to assist measure and maximize romantic love. There’s, for instance, an Anger Girlfriend, a Maternal Girlfriend, a Mundanity Girlfriend, and Mary’s eventual function, the Emotional Girlfriend. White-coated scientists observe the individuals’ organic indicators and strictly regulate the Girlfriends’ conduct, together with their eye contact and speech. Within the sterile, satirical method of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, the novel considers whether or not love is merely a “willful manipulation” and presents this solipsistic concept: folks on the lookout for love solely wind up discovering themselves.
One theme operating beneath all that is cash and the way vastly the lives of the haves and have-nots differ. Lacey expertly mocks wealthy, self-important city dwellers like Kurt who contort themselves to spend cash in ridiculous, ever extra sophisticated methods. There’s a secret, menu-less bar whose “cocktail artist” creates drinks in response to every patron’s supposed wants; a juice bar the place ordering a plain water proves not possible; and, in fact, the Girlfriend Experiment itself. Whereas the rich use cash to make their already superb lives even higher, the poor or bancrupt strive merely to make their insupportable lives tolerable.
For her half, Mary turns into concerned within the Girlfriend Experiment to pay for the prohibitively costly remedy of her mysterious, debilitating ailment. The New Age-y and equally mysterious Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia (or PAKing) remedy she undergoes—assume crystals and paired yoga in darkish rooms—is carried out by Ed, who alternately whispers hippie-dippie mumbo jumbo like “Our spirits know a lot greater than we will” and shares eerily correct prophetic visions. These passages are paying homage to the disquieting world of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, in that different characters in some way know extra in regards to the protagonist’s inside life than she does (“the sense of a subtext,” as Mary places it), making a foreboding hole in information.
Lacey’s prose particularly shines when describing the unusual bodily sensations Mary experiences through the PAKing classes, although the writer doesn’t show the identical wild abandon in her writing right here as she did in her Whiting Award-winning first novel, 2014’s peripatetic Nobody Is Ever Missing, which was stuffed with lengthy, winding sentences that tumbled forth with unrestrained verve. These inclinations sometimes pop up right here, however the screws are tightened in favor of plot; the novel’s ample, penetrating ideas on love and self; and in-depth characterization of even ancillary gamers: Kurt’s irascible private assistant, Matheson; Mary’s spiritually attuned greatest good friend, Chandra (so delightfully near “chakra”); and the rage-filled Anger Girlfriend, who’s a boot knife to Mary’s limp noodle. The narration seamlessly traverses a number of views, spending most of its time outdoors of Mary with Kurt, whose narcissistic lack of empathy verges on sociopathy. Mary’s predominant process because the Emotional Girlfriend is to actively hearken to him and mirror his conduct, shepherding him towards a deeper understanding of himself.
With Mary, a self-described “homeschooled semi-orphan from a barely literate state,” Lacey has created one other complicated protagonist who has hassle functioning in what one would possibly name regular society, or on this planet in any respect; like each the Girlfriend Experiment and PAKing, Mary’s airtight upbringing is one other research in sophisticated changing into. Mary can’t carry out an motion, as small as holding her fingers in her lap, with out questioning if she ought to be doing one thing else, contradicting her ideas with their reverse in every passing second. “I hold questioning what, in me, is likely to be fixed,” she thinks when remembering her childhood. Lacey writes loneliness and solitude with a profound depth, injecting life into the anxious fluttering of these questioning, wandering people who simply don’t know what to do with themselves and who can’t cease asking life’s most impenetrable questions. There’s a joke to be made about The Solutions not providing up any, however the concepts it interrogates are so immense, and essentially existential, that any single rationalization would ring false. “Such a critical factor we’re doing, and nobody actually is aware of learn how to do it,” Mary says of affection, the closest this probing novel involves a positive conclusion.