Hannah Pittard’s debut novel, THE FATES WILL FIND THEIR WAY, is a story about loss and emptiness and what happens to people when one of their own disappears forever. In this case, it’s 16-year-old Nora Lindell who vanishes without a trace. Someone said they think they saw her get into a beat-up Catalina, while others are sure they saw her in a photo taken in Mumbai and still others report sightings in various places.
But as in life, over time, Nora fades into the background and the town moves on…except for the boys. The book is told in multiple voices belonging to Nora’s male friends --- the kids she grew up with, attended school with, and, in their minds, abandoned. From the day she went missing, they are locked into a fog of memories and suppositions. Unfortunately, they see Nora only from their points of view. They don’t seem to absorb the fact that she is the one who “the thing” happened to --- whatever “the thing” is.
Did she run away? If so, why? And to where? How could she leave her sister, Sissy, behind? Pittard told an interviewer, “I kept every chapter as a separate document, and worked on each as if I were writing a series of short stories. Each chapter opens with a focal point and circles back to it by the end of the chapter.” She also came to realize that the boys played off each other and complemented one another, very much like any group of lifelong friends.
Pittard makes clear that she does not want Nora’s story told. She felt she had to work her way through the labyrinth of clues and red herrings left for the reader to ponder. She makes up lives for Nora, who grows up and lives in Arizona with a Mexican cook, has three children, goes to Mumbai and falls in love with a woman. Why a woman? Because men are telling the story. The boys have gone through college, are married with children, and live in different places, but are in close touch with each other. Their families are somewhat ignorant about their continued interest in Nora.
All except one of them live ordinary suburban lives with all the accoutrements that entails. But as soon as a tip or bit of gossip surfaces, they are in touch through a telephone tree much like their mothers used as they were growing up. At some point, they begin to feel uncomfortable about their preoccupation with Nora. Shouldn’t they be looking at themselves as they mature and not stay stuck in the tragedy of the past?
The architecture of the narrative is cemented in the solipsism of the boys/men. For so many years, they have lived with women who they don’t even realize they feel are lesser --- lesser than what readers may ask, lesser than their fantasies about Nora and what kind of life any of them might have had with her. Pittard does not give them any wiggle room out of their selfish fantasies. Some of them transgress and others become quite successful out in the world, but Nora is always on their collective minds. As readers work their way through the novel, they might try guessing what could have happened to Nora, but the ending is a surprise.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on March 28, 2011
The Fates Will Find Their Way