As soon as I read the first words of Lindsey Lane’s debut novel, Evidence of Things Not Seen, I knew. I would kill the weekend with this book. It’s a slim volume that I could have probably gotten through in a single day in editor-mode. But I was reading for pleasure. So I forced myself to take it slow, to savor.
“We leave pieces of ourselves everywhere. Every time we meet someone, they take some of us and we take some of them. That’s how it is. Little particles stick us together. Bit by bit. I think it’s how we get whole.”
That text from the first of many torn “piece[s] of notebook paper found on the side of US 281” is how Evidence of Things Not Seen opens.
I couldn’t help thinking of James Dickey’s novel Alnilam or David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as I read deeper into the secrets of the book’s small Texas town. Like those older works, Evidence is also an opaque mystery, a hunt for a missing teen that dances on the edge of fantasy. The magic in Lane’s story is powerful but shy, preferring to hide in the spaces between. And it takes the form of particle physics. That’s right, I said particle physics.
Tommy, the boy who’s disappeared, is a cherished outsider in his community, an eccentric genius the other kids at “Fred High” all look out for, even if they don’t understand him. And he’s really, really into theoretical physics, especially the idea of alternate dimensions. Many of his peers think that’s what happened to him, that he stepped into another dimension.
Peppering her story with highbrow physics is just one of the many wonderful ways Lane breaks the rules. Another is the structure. This novel could easily have been marketed as a collection of short fiction. Its a string of eyewitness accounts and standalone stories, each from a different perspective. But I came to agree with the choice to label Lane’s book a novel. It has the requisite long-form arc.
Boy does it. Evidence builds like the sound of a passing semi at night. To force the metaphor, Lane’s climax and resolution has the glare and shadow of that speeding big-rig, as well. I recognized it’s power more from the memories and associations her words invoked than from the scene she showed me. If you like neat and tidy endings, this book may frustrate you.
It’s risky for a debut novelist to break as many rules as Lane does. But she pulls it off beautifully. For example, her chapter called “The Last Dance” is essentially a short story about an elderly married couple taking a drive.
How is that YA?
It’s because the wife’s dementia has broken her bond with linear time. She mostly lives as a teen in her mind. Her clear-headed husband, who just wants to stay with her, plays along, drifting hand in hand with her back to the beginning of a long shared history. It’s poignant and tragic and joyful all at once. And somehow, it works beautifully in a book written for teens.
Even with all its iconoclasm, Evidence of Things Not Seen does strictly adhere to the one unbreakable rule of novel writing: you can do whatever you want so long as you’re good enough to pull it off. Lindsey Lane’s debut proves she is so much more than good enough.
Read Evidence of Things Not Seen. Now.