The An­swers

The Walrus - - VISUAL ART - By Cather­ine Lacey

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

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