Review: The Fates Will Find Their Way, Hannah Pittard; plus a question about collective narrators

READ THIS EVERYONE. READ THIS BOOK. Because I want to know if you would like it as much as I did. I really liked it an awful lot. I like it more and more the more I think about it, though I was not blown away as I was reading it. Sometimes when I’m writing a review, I’ll find that I’m talking myself out of whatever book I’m writing about. As I enumerate the book’s flaws, I’ll realize that they were pretty damning, after all, and that although I enjoyed aspects of the book, I won’t ever want to return to it. The opposite of that happened when I started jotting down review notes about The Fates Will Find Their Way.

The Fates Will Find Their Way is the story of a girl called Nora Lindell, who disappears from her town at the age of sixteen, told by a group of teenage (and eventually adult) boys from her town. Most of them remain in the town all their lives, marrying and having children and experiencing the everyday tragedies you experience in adulthood. And all along they wonder what happened to Nora Lindell. They construct elaborate stories about what might have happened, based on scraps of evidence that come their way over the years.

I know what you are thinking! You are thinking about The Virgin Suicides. I know, man. I thought about that too, and for that reason I expected to hate The Fates Will Find Their Way, because I hated The Virgin Suicides. (I theorize that my subconscious recognized that Jeffrey Eugenides is a pretentious poophead, an opinion I base solely on the author picture from The Marriage Plot — shut up, I can judge him however I want!) But in spite of the disappearing-girls similarity, and the similarity of both books being narrated by a group of boys obsessed with an unknowable girl, the books are really quite different.

I love the collective narrator as a device. I recognize that it’s a tricky device to pull off, and I can’t think of that many books that have done it. Just this and Virgin Suicides and Then We Came to the End. But I like it a lot! I think there are times in your life when you feel part of a we. So I like that device.

I also love a book that lets you decide what you want to believe. Throughout the novel, we are presented with narrations about the possible fates of Nora Lindell that seem far-fetched at first; and then we discover the small piece of evidence that came to light at some point over the months and years following her disappearance, that led the boys to concoct this version of her story. Her bones were swept downriver; or else she died in childbirth; or else she moved to Mumbai and died of cancer; or else — any number of things. Her story is unknowable but the boys are determined to discover it anyway. And I liked it that while the story of Nora Lindell might be abduction, rape, and murder (I am so over books about the rape-abduction-murder of young girls and women), that is only one possible story for her out of many, and not the one that seems, in the end, the most plausible.

[Note from the future: This is the point in the review at which I began talking myself way into this book.]

The structure of Fates is just so tight. Sometimes when I thought that an anecdote about the boys was just that, an anecdote, a thematic emotional thing about how they handled or didn’t handle disaster, it would come back around and tie into the life and death of Nora Lindell. Or else sometimes that wouldn’t happen, and it would just be a devastating anecdote about the things people do to each other and how bewildering and unexpected people can be no matter how long you’ve known them.

The emotional structure, too, worked incredibly well. You get told up front about the fates of many of these boys; others you learn about as the book proceeds, to sometimes quietly devastating emotional effect. You see the girls of the town through the boys’ eyes and no other way; but sometimes you can pick up on some sense that the girls are resisting the construction being placed on them by the boys. But why exactly they are resisting or how or what stories they are telling about themselves, you can’t know (just as the boys can’t know).

I am inclined to give it five stars the more I think about how well it was put together. It was put together awfully well, y’all, and that is not a compliment I dish out willy-nilly. I’m going to have to mark this one down for a reread in a year or so, to see if it holds up.

I’m curious how y’all feel about first person plural narratives. Memory has said that she can get hung up on how exactly a narration was produced when it’s in first person; does that extend to “we” books, Memory? Because I too am bothered by things like present tense first person narration — what, are they talking into a machine as they walk around? — but nothing like that happens to me with first-person plural. Is it possibly so far into the realms of the kooky that I just give in and accept it?