It’s no wonder Catherine Lacey’s 2014 debut, “Nobody is Ever Missing,” was widely admired. A smart, slightly off-kilter account of a young woman’s experiences after she leaves both her husband and comfortable Manhattan life to travel aimlessly through New Zealand, it called to mind both Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” and Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?

When an author’s debut is a voice-driven first-person novel, there’s an expectation, just or not, that her second novel will be wider in scope, more “ambitious.” In many ways, Lacey’s new novel, “The Answers,” fits that bill. At the very least, it demonstrates that Lacey is capable of ventriloquizing well beyond the quirky-insightful voice of “Nobody is Ever Missing.”

“The Answers” features a large cast, and Lacey’s depictions of everyone from Kurt, a narcissistic, pseudointellectual movie actor, to Matheson, Kurt’s devoted assistant, are deliciously shrewd. (One of Matheson’s duties is to take Kurt’s middle of the night calls. Kurt would “sleepily relay a dream while Matheson typed it into a document forwarded to Kurt’s psychoanalyst.”)

The responses Kurt elicits in women are also well-observed. An ex-girlfriend, for example, was repulsed by his alarm that the Sept. 11 attacks might jeopardize funding for his movie project. As they argue, Kurt’s defensiveness is laced with acidity: “He realized,” he tells her, “he wasn’t experiencing the attack in the emotionally penetrable way that she was.” When she begins to sob, he demands she “listen to what I’m saying for once instead of obsessing over your own emotional reality.” This isn’t the stuff of easy, overly broad satire — it’s devastating because, damning as it is, it feels accurate.

Kurt is not the novel’s protagonist, though. That would be Mary, a young woman raised in Tennessee, first by zealously religious parents who home-schooled her from a backwoods cabin and then, more conventionally, by an aunt. In her 20s, Mary developed a love of travel that has, at the outset of “The Answers,” left her deeply in debt and working a dead-end job.

She is also suffering from maladies. Doctors haven’t been able to help, and when the book opens, she begins a strange but apparently effective — and expensive — New Age-y treatment. To pay for her treatments, she gets involved in a high-tech experiment run by Kurt and a team of scientists, known simply as the Research Division. In the experiment, a slew of women tend to Kurt’s various romantic needs while wearing sensors to track their brain activity. Mary is hired to be Kurt’s “Emotional Girlfriend.”

During the course of the experiment, Mary’s best friend, Chandra, goes missing. Then there’s a plotline concerning another of Kurt’s hired girlfriends, the “Anger Girlfriend,” who takes to following Mary menacingly around town. In the midst of all this, Mary goes back to Tennessee to confront her past.

Does this sound like a lot? It is. Scene by scene, the book is mostly well done. In Tennessee, for example, Mary faces her once fearsome father. Now old and broken, he tells her, “I didn’t ask for this. I never asked to be alone like this. There was supposed to be a family, more children. No one was supposed to be alone.” The effectiveness of this scene takes one by surprise; until this point, Mary’s unusual upbringing has been referred to but not really developed, and the moment itself takes place amid a crowded jumble of plotlines.

With so many story lines, it’s almost inevitable that not all are resolved by book’s end. We never do find out, for example, what happened to some of the characters or how others are connected to one another. Even Mary’s state of mind is a bit opaque. Instead of seeming like a clever subversion of narrative expectations, this non-resolution resolution feels like a missed opportunity. Lacey is an extremely talented writer, but “The Answers” is a little less than the sum of its many excellent parts.

Adelle Waldman is the author of “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.”

By Catherine Lacey

FSG. 304 pp. $26