I don't really know how to write a proper book review, and I admit that up front. But I can, hopefully, give you a sense of why Hannah Pittard's debut novel The Fates Will Find Their Way is something you should read.
The Fates Will Find Their Way is, on the surface, the story of Nora Lindell, a 16 year-old girl who goes missing on Halloween night from her upper middle class neighborhood. Nobody knows what happened to her and a group of teenaged boys who all knew Nora begin to speculate about where she may have gone and what may have been her fate. This speculation outlasts high school and college and continues into adulthood and the group of boys remain obsessed with Nora even as they marry and have children of their own. Everything is a reflection of Nora Lindell's absence.
Meanwhile, Pittard gives us a series of possible fates for the missing girl. Maybe she was abducted. Maybe she ran away. Maybe she ended up in Arizona, working at a restaurant. Maybe she went to Mumbai. Nora's sister Sissy may know, but she's not telling the curious boys/men anything.
The book is full of longing and a sense that something is missing. The boys move reluctantly into adulthood with the idea that if they could find out what happened to Nora, the emptiness of their own lives would be filled in somehow. And Nora, or one possible Nora anyway, also feels some essential lack and tries to fill that void in a variety of ways.
But I don't want to reduce the novel down to the effect of a missing girl on a group of high school boys, because there's more to The Fates Will Find Their Way than just that. The dynamic of the group of boys (the story is told in a false third-person plural and you never learn which one of the "we" is actually the narrator) is very well done and while Pittard's fictional teenage males never quite ring true for me, it's compelling and convincingly shows the complexity of group relationships and shifting alliances and lines of trust. Maybe if I'd lived in the same city the whole time I was growing up this would feel more real to me; I can't say. The writing is beautiful and Pittard cares about her characters, even the badly-behaved ones.
The novel isn't about fate so much as it seems to be about searching for real life. There are tragedies in the book but certainly all life is tragic in the end, because for all the points of the compass we each eventually go in the same direction, to the grave. So perhaps Pittard is part of the post-Nietzschean philosophy, musing about what to do when the most important fact about life is the omnipresence of death. Perhaps not. I don't think this book can be reduced to a single, simple statement of theme. No good book can be, because good narratives operate simultaneously on multiple levels (sometimes giving conflicting information to the reader) and Pittard's book is no exception.
The Fates Will Find Their Way comes out this month, February 2011. I should have some sort of pithy final thoughts about the book but I can't come up with anything that isn't a spoiler. I liked this book. I read it in two or three days, which is pretty quick for me. Like I say, I don't really know how to write a book review, but I really liked Pittard's novel and so I say unto you: run out and buy it when it hits the shelves.