The Answers, Catherine Lacey’s sophomore novel, is closely tied to film. Set out in three parts, which function as acts, in the first we meet Mary, a lonely and debt-ridden young woman with only one friend to confide in. Struggling by in an admin job and a mountain of debt, she answers a job ad and embarks on a series of strange interviews. Part two begins as she’s hired onto the ‘Girlfriend Experiment’, run by film star Kurt Sky, as the actor’s ‘Emotional Girlfriend’.
The extended second act becomes an ensemble piece along with his ‘Anger’, ‘Maternal’, ‘Intellectual’ and ‘Mundanity’ girlfriends. The goal? To divide the labour of emotional relationships into individual facets to crack the code of the neurobiology of love.
Characters’ interior lives are well-drawn and the life choices that lead them to this strange career ring true
Though its structure is strange, the characters’ interior lives are well-drawn and the life choices that lead them to this strange career ring true. The ‘Relational Experiments’ these women take part in become increasingly eerie as we learn more about self-aware, emotionally troubled Kurt and grasp his true motivations.
At its best moments, the narration takes on an edge of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York – a film in which the main characters’ lives are contin-ually recreated until multiple actors are following the same motions. All this is wonderfully orchestrated, giving a sense of how scripted experiments begin to entangle with true emotion.
What works less well as the story progresses are clashes between the textured story world and the real world. Real film stars are mentioned to make points about expectation and provocation, like Shia LaBeouf’s flouting of Hollywood convention.
These moments often feel more like something the author, not the character, wants to express. These hints feel clunky and call the story world into question. Ultimately, the third act also weakens this process of creation and, as the purpose of the experiment unfolds, the book’s message on the mysteries of love is undermined.