See You in the Morning, Mairead Case’s debut novel, is a love story if a love story means trying to become someone who doesn’t always feel shut off. It’s the summer before senior year in high school, and the unnamed narrator is already planning to move away from a town that’s maybe too comfortable or not comfortable enough, not dreamy but not dreary — maybe there aren’t enough options, but what options is this narrator looking for?
It’s humid in this unnamed city “small enough to walk across in one morning,” where parents and neighbors sit drinking on porches while their kids sleep or party at basement house shows where someone “plays keyboards like a waterfall.” The narrator works at a big box bookstore called Chapters, but this isn’t the Canadian chain because it’s in a town where “[o]ur neighbors’ yard has two crosses and an American flag.” New York is the only city mentioned by name, somewhere you can take a bus if you save up enough money from your high school jobs — like Rosie, who used to be part of a best friend trio with the narrator and John, until Rosie and John were sleeping together, and then they weren’t, and now Rosie’s gone, just like that, she got on that bus to New York.
See You in the Morning takes place between an ending already declared at the beginning, and a beginning that’s harder to imagine — between childhood and adulthood; between high school and something else; between feeling sad that you never feel anything, and feeling sad; between religiosity and questioning; between silence and emotion; between stasis and motion.
One of the joys of reading See You in the Morning is that Case doesn’t ruin it with a tidy ending. Instead the text cascades into a series of open-ended letters, probably never sent, sometimes a paragraph or just a few sentences. These are letters from the narrator to John, who the narrator has fallen in love with, or at least it feels that way — they’ve been best friends forever, and now maybe it’s something else too. The problem is that when the narrator declares this love, John starts yelling, and this results in a chain of letters to nowhere, a beginning and ending at once.
The narrator likes to “pretend I’m sitting in the middle of a clock, so time doesn’t mean anything to me, but I can look at all the hours, one by one,” which might explain why this book feels like it occurs outside a particular time or place. The characters watch movies on laptops and text one another, so it must be close to the present-day, but the narrator’s internal landscape of questions without answers, and answers without questions, feels jarring in both its familiarity and dislocation: “When I see people here sitting on their porches in white tank tops holding a beer, looking out without speaking, I think of cars on their sides.”
The narrator is learning how to drive, literally and metaphorically: “I think it’s important to keep a record. Sometimes things make sense later.” See You in the Morning is exactly this record. It makes a lot of sense.