The Answers was an interesting read and it so happened that I read it at a time when I needed to read something like this.
We have Mary, a 30-year-old woman who loves to travel. She is stuck in a job, has a small mountain of debt, a very dear hippie friend, and some secrets. Mary begins to have aches, pains, and spasms that hinder her life. Though she consults many doctors and tries many things, none of them have an explanation or a remedy. Finally, her friend suggests PAK’ing (Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia). After one session of this with Ed, she feels better. By this point, we are aware that Mary’s debts are burgeoning and to afford more PAK sessions, Mary needs an additional source of income.
It is then that she comes across a high-paying, low-time-commitment income-generating experience, to which she applies. This experience is an experiment by Kurt, an actor/director and is called the Girlfriend Experiment. The experiment has Kurt appoint different women to be a part of this experiment as a type of girlfriend. There is the Maternal Girlfriend, the anger Girlfriend, the Mundanity girlfriend, the emotional girlfriend, the sleeping girlfriend, and there is the intimacy ‘team’. Mary, who is immune to most things that we feel because of her upbringing, is seen to be the perfect emotional girlfriend.
The experiment progresses and the research team makes its observations and inferences. But, as time progresses Kurt seems to be getting more attached to Mary. What started off as an attempt to quantify and rationalize things begin to take a very emotional path. Only, Mary does not seem to be having the same feelings as Kurt does.
The plot is interesting, or perhaps it was made interesting by Catherine Lacey. Her writing is what kept me reading through. There is nothing that is lacking or in excess when it comes to her writing. Lacey even flawlessly incorporates sexual assault and harassment into her writing. It does not make one cringe or feel ashamed. Instead, these instances make you feel as hollow as the victim feels in her head.
This is another thing about Catherine Lacey’s writing. In The Answers, she effortlessly takes us into the minds of all these characters. It takes time to warm up to them, even Mary. But once you are there, you understand. You tend to go through the whole story rather detached and floating over the head of everyone involved, watching them as they live their lives, like one would observe ants. At the same time, you tend to get involved in the process of the experiment as well. It could be a reality even before we know it.
I’d definitely recommend The Answers to serious readers.