romance novels tend to offer only platitudes: love is universal; the right partner is capable of offering solace in a cruel world. (Think Jane Eyre, Atonement, or, if you must, The Fault in Our Stars.) The most compelling aspect of Catherine Lacey’s new novel, The Answers, is that she avoids any such conclusions. The book, described as a “meditation on love,” tells the story of Mary Parsons, a woman who suffers from an inexplicable illness. To pay for treatment, she begins working for Kurt Sky, an eccentric millionaire on a pseudoscientific quest to manufacture the perfect relationship. He hires several women — each representative of aspecific “type” — to be his partners. Mary, for example, is the “Emotional Girlfriend”; her colleagues take on other roles, such as “Maternal Girlfriend” and “Anger Girlfriend.” A research team monitors participants with sensors and cameras, and instructs the women on how to act.
Lacey’s prose is expressive and biting — sex, for example, is depicted mostly as a source of suffering. In the end, the book isn’t really about love. Rather, it exposes the unreliability, nebulousness, and sheer stupidity of human emotion — a much more satisfying message.
— Viviane Fairbank