Hannah Pittard has big shoes to fill: Her first novel, a dark story of adolescence gone awry, echoes Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides and his own haunting debut, The Virgin Suicides. Like Eugenides, Pittard narrates from the omniscient, plural voice of a group of small-town boys hurt and confused by the mysterious unraveling of girls they thought were, in some ways, their own. The gothic tone, nascent sexuality and profound feeling of collective helplessness all harken sharply backward. It could be called derivative, but Pittard adds an important twist that makes her take on this very specific genre feel like her own.
In The Fates Will Find Their Way, the disaster that binds the boys together is not suicide but disappearance—one Halloween night, when the teenagers are all out celebrating, 16-year-old Nora Lindell goes missing. When everyone is notified, via a particularly terrible phone tree, and time presses onward, details are muddled and the boys begin to postulate theories. One remembers seeing her near the bus stop, and another thinks he saw her get into a strange car, while others suddenly remember encountering her in a distant airport, where she claimed to be on her way to visiting relatives. What results is a sort of morbid “choose your own adventure” story, as each possibility of Nora’s fate is offered and then rescinded as a possible truth.
It is this particular narrative trick and the care with which she executes it that saves Pittard, casting her as not only a talented mimic, but as an innovator in her own right. In playing out each of the theories about Nora’s disappearance, Pittard perfectly illustrates the hysteria surrounding any such disaster, and the ways in which every detail can be twisted and elevated to create endings to a story that fundamentally has none.