The Heartbreaking and the Familiar: See You in the Morning by Mairead Case
The unnamed narrator of See You in the Morning goes to punk shows, works at a bookstore and hangs out with her elderly neighbor, Mr. Green. She is jealous of her slutty friends but afraid for them, too. She is also afraid for herself, because it’s the summer before her senior year, “the last one that nobody really cares about,” as she puts it, and to not be afraid would be crazy. At least, that is the world Mairead Case creates for her debut novel See You in the Morning. The result is heartbreaking and familiar, liable to trigger flashbacks of alienation so vivid, they’ll make your feet sweat.
The novel is set in a mid-western town caught in the low tide of latent Catholicism. The narrator goes to church with her mom, but she often wakes up early so she can go alone. That way she can sit in the back and people watch, which seems innocent, but plays into the larger theme of the novel. Much of what bothers the narrator gets internalized through her descriptions of the people around her. For example, she may not hear the homily one morning because she is watching a little boy, fascinated by his own ability to splay his fingers, but truthfully, she misses it on purpose. She feels like she doesn’t deserve communion. Her guilt is a reflection of the town she lives in, but the saddest part is not that she abstains from being forgiven but that she doesn’t have the wherewithal or self-reflection to remove herself. She’s still in high school, after all.
Her parents are isolated from her. She doesn’t feel like she can talk to them. The parents of her friends are either divorced or going through hardship, and every one-on-one interaction she has with an adult is overshadowed by a need to protect them or a need to protect her friends from seeing their parents in such a vulnerable state. The guise that she perpetuates is the same song and dance that she placates to whenever she goes to church. She suspends disbelief; it’s easier and she only has one more year left. At least, that is what she keeps telling herself.
The only adult she feels comfortable talking to is her elderly neighbor, Mr. Green. He seems to fit into the same category that the narrator pictures for herself, which is a category that doesn’t seem to actually fit anywhere. Mr. Green dresses differently, acts differently and believes it’s okay to think differently or at least modify the beliefs you’ve been given:
“Remember, Mr. Green said when I started crying about that yard with the tiny white crosses, crying about the babies, your God doesn’t have to be exactly like their God. You just have to sit next to each other sometimes.”
He teaches her how to hit on girls and how to drive a car. He treats her like an adult-in-training, giving her a hard time when she doesn’t know how to do things she should know how to do. Their relationship is endearing, but it also works as a base for comparison, because compared to every other relationship, the one she has with Mr. Green is remarkable, which only makes her situation seem that much worse.
See You in the Morning isn’t all wayward and woeful, though. Case manages to slip her sly sense of humor into the narrative, which creates a pacing that balances the overall tone so that it falls just shy of overly sentimental. Her style is reminiscent of Catherine Lacey or, at times, Sarah Gerard, but it also calls on the almost dreamlike world-building of John Brandon or even Haruki Murakami. It’s as if Case manages to evoke a sense of importance with every detail and a feeling of urgency with every action. There is more to this book than its spare 126 pages. It folds itself into your memories and pulls more out than you may be willing to give, and in this way, it is an important and vital book.
by Mairead Case