The Answers

In The Answers, Catherine Lacey (Nobody Is Ever Missing) focuses on a young woman whose passivity and introspection take her places she never planned. Born Junia Stone in East Tennessee, Mary Parsons was renamed and taken in by her aunt when her Bible-obsessed father tried to raise her "in a state of complete purity." A self-described "homeschooled semi-orphan from a barely literate state," she remembers her time at college as "a gestational period, four years of warning and training for this life that was coming." She graduates and moves to New York City with her loopy roommate Chandra.

When she's stricken with body-wracking disease, Mary lets Chandra lead her through a maze of traditional health care before venturing to Chandra's preferred healers. She finally discovers miraculous relief with Chandra's last recommendation: Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia ("PAKing"), as practiced with the hocus-pocus jive of the personal masseuse Ed. Problem is, a full PAKing treatment costs thousands, so Mary turns to Craigslist. After numerous interviews, Mary is offered a job with the Girlfriend Experiment, designed to illuminate love and companionship.

When the job and PAKing sessions inevitably end, Mary has a new perspective on the uncertainty of life. She reflects: "I thought of all those billions of hearts beating out there, trying to find love or keep love going. All those people, getting in the way of each other--how do we even stand it? How do we make our way around?" Lacey doesn't give us answers, but she sure gives us a wild story with a memorable protagonist. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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