‘Family Physics’ by Catherine Lacey

Bridget, the main character in ‘Family Physics’, is someone who gives up on marriage after three months and once walked out of college and drove around the US for so long that her family presumed she had died, personifying the drifters that populate Lacey’s collection. In this story, Lacey’s dig at the absurdity of family obligations is both funny and sad. Of all her deft snapshots, this, about how Bridget’s sister had become someone she no longer recognised, stands out. 

And, sure, people always disappear into new people, and no one can stop the way new versions of people overtake the old versions of people, but something about the new Linda was so menacing that it made me suspicious of what she’d done with the old Linda.

You leave the story none the wiser about how the next decade of their family dynamics will pan out, which might sound frustrating but actually renewed my appreciation of the genre in a way that reminded me of Joy Williams’s dictum – that a short story doesn’t care what you think about it. Let’s face it, short stories usually leave you (well, me anyway) hungry and vaguely unsatisfied, making them far more realistic than novels, which try and con you into thinking you’re getting the complete picture. 

First published in The Sewannee Review, Spring 2018. Collected in Certain American States, Granta, 2018. Read it online here