Hannah Pittard on The Fates Will Find Their Way
The author discusses her new novel, The Fates Will Find Their Way.
We are somewhere in the pages of Hannah Pittard’s debut novel, The Fates Will Find Their Way (Ecco, $24.99). That’s literally true: The book’s narrator is a collective “we,” a first-person plural narrator gathering the received anti-wisdom of a group of neighborhood boys in a suburban town. But the way the story plays out, covering conjecture with the sheen of fact and writing myth into stone, Pittard ropes the reader in as well.
The signature event of The Fates unfolds before the first page. High-schooler Nora Lindell, a private-school girl admired by her male classmates, disappears on Halloween. The event is so outside the norm—one gets the sense that these kids know where everyone is at all times—that it sends ripples of confusion and gossip through the community. One boy claims he saw her waiting at the bus station, another says he saw her at the bus station, too, but that she opted to get into the car of a stranger. Another one wonders aloud if their tryst a month before caused her to run away, though the rest of the “we” is doubtful of his claim. Pittard says the collective voice was there with her from the outset of the story.
“For me, it allowed the intimacy of first person and the distance of third,” the Hyde Park resident says. “There’s something very creepy about being treated like you’re part of the group—especially when you’ve never actually met the members—and I like the possible implications of that creepiness.”
The hypersexual minds of teenage boys only exacerbate that creepiness, as they imagine having sex with Nora or her younger sister Sissy, or picture what it may have been like for Nora if she did hitchhike with a pedophile. Sissy proves beguiling to the collective narrator, not just because of her beauty, but her refusal to let them in.
Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides comes to mind when reading The Fates, and Pittard says she loves the book, but avoided reading it during the writing of her novel, to dodge its influence. And the “we” of Pittard’s novel is a much looser band than the one that told Joshua Ferris’s acclaimed novel Then We Came to the End. The boys are often singled out when their stories don’t conform to the consensus, and one gets the impression there’s tension in the hive mind, a tension that exacerbates rumor by emphasizing the appearance of truth, rather than truth itself. The point is to convince. It reminded me of a Maurice Merleau-Ponty quote: “Humanity is not an aggregate of individuals, a community of thinkers, each of whom is guaranteed from the outset to be able to reach agreement with the others because all participate in the same thinking essence.” Whether humanity is or not, it wants to be, and Pittard plays off that desire.
“I’ve been fascinated by gossip all my life—watching that smidgen of truth transform itself from mouth to mouth into something hideous and hurtful,” she says. “I’ve been very hurt by gossip personally. I’ve also been a part of the spreading of it. I wanted to write something that implicated all of us. We tell ourselves stories every day. Some days those stories get away from us, from truth, and we let them.”
Pittard reads from The Fates at Lincoln Hall on Tuesday 25.