I Fear My Pain Interests You

- by Stephanie Lacava Verso, £9.99 (softcover)

“I really don’t feel anything,” says the narrator of Stephanie Lacava’s slim, absurdist novel about the ways in which a young woman, when it comes to matters of the heart, finds herself mistreated by men decades her senior.

(Lacava’s last novel was set in the artworld and she is a contributo­r to a number of art magazines.) Margot, in her early twenties and self-exiled from Manhattan to Montana, means it literally: she has had a mishap on her bicycle, and though she is bleeding from a gash in her leg, she hasn’t noticed it and so carries on with her plan to visit a grave. Fortunatel­y – sort of – she is met at the cemetery gate by a tall, handsome stranger with bedroom eyes and a ‘pathologic­al calm’.

He removes his shirt to use as a tourniquet. Later he kisses her and then pulls hard on her hair, gauging the e‰ect from her expression. Misinterpr­eting the basis for his interest, Margot embarks on a relationsh­ip with the man, who will henceforth be called Graves, and who, it turns out, is a former neurosurge­on with a specialty in ‘congenital analgesia’ – the inability to feel physical pain from which Margot has su‰ered since birth.

Much wooden dialogue and exposition follow, the pronounced artificial­ity of the writing e‰ectively outlining and setting apart for closer examinatio­n the varieties of pain Margot does feel. Although there are elements to her story that allow for intriguing observatio­ns relating to ‘the throb of prying eyes’, this is a curiously retrograde story about an economical­ly privileged, emotionall­y deprived daughter of famous musicians and granddaugh­ter of an improbably controllin­g matriarch and recordprod­ucing grandfathe­r (whose name graces an auditorium at an Ivy League university that Margot attends and is later expelled from), who is drawn to older men who ignore her emotional needs. The story’s high-concept, self-consciousl­y mannered plot and trade in the poetry of therapeuti­c language relating to bad relationsh­ips go only so far in disguising a thin, depressing­ly convention­al storyline. David Terrien

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