The Fates Will Find Their Way; Hannah Pittard; Ecco, 225 pages

Hannah Pittard’s name may be familiar because it was attached to the unopened Belmont restaurant Southern Crescent that fomented controversy in that neighborhood. But she is more widely known for a buzzed-about debut novel, The Fates Will Find Their Way that fomented a bidding war between publishers (Ecco won), which is about a tragedy not unfamiliar to Charlottesville: the mysterious disappearance of an attractive young woman.

Pittard, a graduate of UVA’s MFA program, reads from The Fates Will Find Their Way at the Barracks Road Barnes & Noble on February 7 at 7pm.

The story is this: On Halloween night in year X, suburb X, 16-year-old Nora Lindell goes missing, leaving in her wake a menagerie of young men who we see spending the rest of their lives wondering what, exactly, ever happened to Nora Lindell. The boys get old, get jobs, wives, kids and revisit the questions. Was it Nora Lindell we saw, getting into the Ford Catalina that day? Was it she at the airport, boarding a plane for Arizona? Was it she in the picture, just moments before the attacks on Mumbai?

Like Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, which is similarly about randy youngsters growing old over the shared memory of a neighborhood tragedy, the story is told by an unnamed “we” that, rather than comforting the reader, instead makes him feel complicit in the girl’s disappearance. The narrative splinters into Nora’s future as “we” imagine it—in India, we imagine she becomes a lesbian, which takes the sting out of not being able to have her ourselves—only to remind us that, of course, we really have no idea what happened to Nora. Meanwhile, the moment of her disappearance serves as a benchmark by which we judge the ways in which the men have grown. Or stayed the same, as the case may be, emotionally and, worse, sexually. All of the what-ifs about Nora are a handy excuse to ignore questions the men should be asking about themselves.

The Fates Will Find Their Way might give men the sense that Pittard has invaded strict dude territory. How does she know, for example, that even at their creepiest, men often know they’re being creepy? (“God, we were creeps!” “we” say.) Or how boys talk in basements? Or that when a girl returns to school after that magic summer when her body starts to change, that this is how it registers: She went “in one summer, from a middle schooler, a classic little sister…to a full-blown nymph, a dewy-mouthed ninth-grader whose mere promenade down a hallway drove varsity captains wild with boyish lust”?

The above sentence is among the book’s most floral. Elsewhere Pittard has no trouble killing her little darlings. To wit, Pittard casually and brutally dispatches with many of her characters: with a car crash, cancer and (this one’s my favorite) with a heart attack in a jail cell. If the unnamed Mid-Atlantic town where this sweeping, empathetic story transpires can be a brutal place, it does justice to a world that treats its inhabitants similarly. Faced with uncertainty, that the fates will indeed find their way is small consolation.

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