Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity with those affected by generations of structural violence. You can help »

The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2010

All Issues
NOV 2010 Issue

A Fate More Than Death

Hannah Pittard
The Fates Will Find Their Way
(Ecco, 2010)

Hannah Pittard’s debut novel, reminiscent of American Beauty with overtones of Mystic River, reverberates with the delicate soul of dwindling Americana. The Fates Will Find Their Way opens with the disappearance of 16-year-old Nora Lindell, a quiet, boyish, private school student whose unresolved fate forms the engine of the story. Several supporting characters, mostly neighborhood boys, rapidly develop out of their relationships to the missing girl. While the friends she leaves behind trudge forward into a future of suburban domesticity—with wives, children, and workaday jobs—Nora’s spirit escapes suburbia into the boundless realm of imagination. Their collective stories, told through the lens of a nameless narrator, form a beautiful mosaic of the town’s shared grief.

The rest of the novel spirals outward from the event into a full-fledged landscape of “what is lost.” What is lost: illusion, ideology, innocence. We find that each of Pittard’s characters is damaged. Whether shaken by the Lindell girl’s absence (“Trey…confessed to having had sex with Nora the month before. He wondered aloud about whether this might have had something to do with her disappearance.”), inflicted by their own childhood traumas (“Marty never talked about it. It’s not the sort of thing—if it happened to us and not to Marty—we’d have been anxious to share with others.”), or, like our narrator, absorbing the pain and disaffection of others, all of these characters are missing something.

Stories fill the void, and storytelling forms the theme of Pittard’s novel. The author plays with the definition in clever ways, beginning with dictation (via the “phone tree”), and departing, gradually, into varying interpretations (stories we tell ourselves, news stories, films). She clues us in with repeated phrases (“could have,” “maybe,” “of course,” “you’ll remember”) that blossom into vivid scenes. The scenes achieve verisimilitude through a certain feeling of vulnerability. And tying all of them together is the possible yet tragically unrealized life of Nora Lindell.

Nora’s story answers the question of what is lost with versions of what might have become of her. It’s possible that she froze to death wandering through the woods. Or maybe she’s lounging poolside in New Mexico. Or perhaps she’s found solace in the love of a faithful man. Or gone to India. Or died. The real question isn’t what happened to Nora; it’s what would you make your life if you could make it anything? In truth, no less flawed, no less tragic or disappointing.

I imagine this is what led Pittard to set Fates in suburbia: because there’s no more tragic or disappointing location. If the setting seems blurry at first it’s because Pittard avoids long description in favor of sparing descriptive language. We gather from the “phone tree” that we’re meeting a cluster of families, from references to Halloween that the weather is cool, and finally, from the swing sets, the riverbank, and the shopping mall, that we’re in suburbia. We know that this is going to be a novel about piecing things together. Still, it may not have hurt to give the town a name.

In sum, Pittard’s debut novel is a success, and she’s established herself on my bookshelf as a top-notch storyteller. Clean, simple language makes for incredibly readable text, and humble, realistic plot points carry the reader straight through to the end. At the story’s close, we feel we’ve learned something about ourselves, maybe even come to terms with some of our own grief. We might even feel inspired toward a life of possibility, like Nora—to leave suburbia, go to India, to New Mexico. Anywhere.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2010

All Issues