In Hannah Pittard’s bracing debut, The Fates Will Find Their Way, a girl’s disappearance is less an unsolved mystery than it is a raison d’être for a group of her male classmates. In the middle of yet another high-school party providing fodder for the parents’ telephone tree, 16-year-old Nora Lindell goes missing one Halloween from her small suburban town, and her private-school classmates shoulder the weight of her memory for decades. One describes standing outside her bathroom stall as she took a pregnancy test, while another is certain she got into a Pontiac Catalina in the woods with a strange man, but her myth proves as durable as her traces are fleeting. The claims about Nora’s whereabouts fade, but as the boys she went to school with grow up and start families of their own, they return again and again to her image, even as more real-life tragedy—a rape, a suicide, an arrest—is heaped upon their cul-de-sacs.

Recasting the wistfulness of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides with a hint of The Lovely Bones, Pittard’s debut pairs its portrait of the pain and curiosity of those left behind with a potential future for Nora, in which she and her unborn child go to Arizona and are taken in by a restaurant manager. But it never establishes her true fate. Each new sighting sparks an alternate story woven into the narrative, but all are couched in the language of speculation: Nora remains a tantalizing figure in the distance, elusive as a ghost, but absorbing all the energy when the men gather to recount their past. With each successive heartbreak, they gather to elaborate on her myth instead of their own, to their wives’ exclusion and consternation. Heightened by time, her case trumps their own families’ trials; deft use of the first-person plural narrative shunts these stories to the margins naturally.

The Fates Will Find Their Way draws a world where stomach-turning pranks live on to be retold endlessly, among people entirely unconvinced that a wayward teenager will be restored. Ripe with a sense of danger to the last page, the stories woven among the boys who remembered Nora Lindell create a captivating tale of lives unlived—hers and theirs—as after yet another funeral, they ask themselves, “What, right now, is taking place that we should be stopping, but we can’t even see?”