In her new book The Answers, food is fuel more than it is fun

By Molly McArdle
Updated February 13, 2018
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EC: How Novelist Catherine Lacey Does Breakfast
Credit: Photo by Lauren Volo

In Catherine Lacey’s second novel—after her lauded debut Nobody Is Ever Missing—little is explicable, though everyone’s looking for an explanation. The Answers follows Mary as takes on a dubious and strangely taxing job in a scientific experiment (the “Girlfriend Experiment”) to pay for a dubious and strangely expensive holistic treatment (“Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia,” or PAK) for her chronic pain. Bodies are sources of betrayal as often as they are of pleasure, food is fuel more than it is fun.

Extra Crispy: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Catherine Lacey: Half an avocado and a fried egg with harissa and kimchi.

Is that a normal breakfast for you?
A few times a week I’ll have an egg with some elaborate, culturally-confused shit like this. As a rule, I eat breakfast but I don't eat the same thing every day.

Are there any breakfast moments in your new book?
At some point a woman consumes a very expensive brunch alone then gets emotional and throws it all up in the street.

The Answers is so much about the unknowability of the body (and mind), despite intense and expensive efforts made to understand them. Not only is PAK a mystery, but also the very concept of feelings and motivation is up for debate here. Do you have any grand theories about the body and/or mind that informed your approach to this book? Did you learn anything new as you wrote it?
There are two intersections of mind and body that interest me the most. One is health—the way the mind and body have mutual effect on each other. The other is romantic love. I’ve experienced brief, strange sicknesses that I later diagnosed as an emotion made physical. I’ve been in a kind of love that made me feel ill or elated, sometimes concurrently. And all the while it has seemed to me that the relationship of the mind and body are something like two hands on an Ouija board—which one is moving the other? Or is something else entirely moving the two? I have no answers, of course! I never do. I write because I don’t really know anything at all. And I don’t believe that writing teaches me anything in itself—a book is something like a side-effect of my life, of questioning and searching for it.