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A Lost Girl And Found Imaginations In 'The Fates'

Feb 5, 2011 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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In Hannah Pittard's first novel, The Fates Will Find Their Way, a 16-year-old girl named Nora Lindell inexplicably disappears one day. Left in her wake are the neighborhood kids, who become entranced by the possibilities of what happened to her. A group of teenage boys become the most fascinated with Nora, and their years spent wondering eventually crafts them into remarkable characters.

The acclaimed novel, which has recently been the object of a bidding war between foreign publishers, is narrated in a first-person plural voice. It begins as the thoughts of a large group of generic young teenage boys. But eventually they become separate people, with their own histories and qualities.

"These boys — they shared an amorphous boy brain. I never intended for them to become individuals, and then when I was writing it, I got to a point halfway though ... and the next thing I knew, I'm not kidding, it was — these boys were so real, and it was as though I had gone to school with them," Pittard says.

Once the characters had materialized — such as Danny Hatchet, who wears sweatshirts every day, has acne, and is the kind of kid who would hit a dog — Pittard decided to explore their imaginations. Out of this came many alternative visions of what could have happened, like Nora living in Arizona with a man named Mundo, or in Mumbai with a female henna artist. The novel doesn't resolve a lot of loose ends that readers may wish were answered. When Pittard's agent asked how she would respond to the inevitable question of how the story really ends, she said she couldn't answer the question if she wanted to, because she herself didn't know.

Instead of resolving what exactly happens to Nora Lindell, the novel explores the effects of growing up in a swirl of rumors, accusations and regrets. In middle school, Pittard knew a girl whose older sister had been kidnapped. The uncertainty of the event — combined with an active childhood imagination — resulted in a fascination with the possibilities of what could have happened.

"I spent a lot of time myself trying to fill in those gaps, and I was very aware of the stories that I made up, and that my fellow classmates made up," Pittard says. "And we somehow knew that we were all lying or exaggerating, and yet the excitement of that exaggeration — we couldn't stop."

Some of the more memorable details of the novel relate to the period in which it takes place; to communicate, the neighborhood parents use phone trees. Pittard says she wanted to return to a time before instantaneous communication meant that everyone knew where you were at all times — the kind of time when people still made firm plans well in advance of when and where they would meet. Similarly, no one truly knows Nora's whereabouts, and Pittard couldn't help but make it that way.

"Obviously, I think in a way I fell a little bit in love with Nora Lindell, or otherwise I probably would have been successfully able to do away with her once and for all. But I think even in my own brain I just needed the possibility that, exactly as you just said, she might waltz through that door at any minute."

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