Stephanie LaCava’s ‘I Fear My Pain Interests You’ – Review

Courtesy Verso

“I really don’t feel anything,” says the narrator of Stephanie LaCava’s slim, absurdist novel about the ways in which a young woman, when it comes to matters of the heart, finds herself mistreated by men decades her senior. (LaCava’s last novel was set in the artworld and she is a contributor to a number of art magazines.) Margot, in her early twenties and self-exiled from Manhattan to Montana, means it literally: she has had a mishap on her bicycle, and though she is bleeding from a gash in her leg, she hasn’t noticed it and so carries on with her plan to visit a grave. Fortunately – sort of – she is met at the cemetery gate by a tall, handsome stranger with bedroom eyes and a ‘pathological calm’. He removes his shirt to use as a tourniquet. Later he kisses her and then pulls hard on her hair, gauging the effect from her expression. Misinterpreting the basis for his interest, Margot embarks on a relationship with the man, who will henceforth be called Graves, and who, it turns out, is a former neurosurgeon with a specialty in ‘congenital analgesia’ – the inability to feel physical pain from which Margot has suffered since birth.

Much wooden dialogue and exposition follow, the pronounced artificiality of the writing effectively outlining and setting apart for closer examination the varieties of pain Margot does feel. Although there are elements to her story that allow for intriguing observations relating to ‘the throb of prying eyes’, this is a curiously retrograde story about an economically privileged, emotionally deprived daughter of famous musicians and granddaughter of an improbably controlling matriarch and record-producing grandfather (whose name graces
an auditorium at an Ivy League university that Margot attends and is later expelled from), who is drawn to older men who ignore her emotional needs. The story’s high-concept, self-consciously mannered plot and trade in the poetry of therapeutic language relating to bad relationships go only so far in disguising a thin, depressingly conventional storyline.

I Fear My Pain Interests You
by Stephanie LaCava, Verso, £9.99 (softcover)

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