I've been trying to lighten up my reading lately by adding romantic suspense novels to the mysteries, thrillers and suspense novels that are my usual book diet. I'm finding out that this may not have been such a good idea, so I'm alerting our Bookreporter.com readers at the start of this review that I may have a previously unrecognized bias against romantic suspense (even though, or perhaps because, I used to write it myself). With that caveat, here's the review:
Joy Fielding's latest novel, LOST, is a somewhat lighthearted look at a potentially serious subject: a lost child. That the child in question is 21 years old doesn't make much, if any, difference in the seriousness of the mother's feelings --- as any mother of grown children could verify. This lightheartedness makes for some enjoyable reading, but on the whole it provided an uneasiness in me that was never resolved --- not even at the end of the book --- and I found that to be a major flaw.
The main character is Cindy Carver, a 42-year-old divorced housewife with a part-time job that is more important to her self-esteem than to her finances. Her ex-husband Tom is a lawyer who provided Cindy with a generous settlement, including a house and an income for life. In spite of this, Tom is presented as a philanderer and a shark, a man who understands the 20th/21st century end-justifies-the-means ethics extremely well and embraces them wholeheartedly. The grownup child who goes missing at the very start of the book is Julia, a model and aspiring actress: age 21, six feet tall, size two and gorgeous. Julia resembles her mother, so we know Cindy is also gorgeous if not quite so tall and suffering somewhat from middle age.
Heather is Cindy's younger daughter, who is 19. Heather has a boyfriend named Duncan whose parents died some years back in an accident, and he has been living in Cindy's house and sleeping with Heather since they were 15 --- this with Cindy's blessing. But Julia, until right before the book began, was living with her father since the divorce when she was 14 --- only her father's marriage to a woman just a few years older than herself has made Julia leave her father's house and return to live with Cindy, theoretically until Julia can afford her own apartment. Seven years after their divorce, Cindy still has strong reactions to the mere mention of Tom's name, and she calls his new wife The Cookie. Cindy's guilt over having lost Julia to Tom was already huge before Julia goes missing one September day and sets the plot in motion.
One might get the idea from all of the above that Cindy is less than fully in charge of her own life, and one would be correct. Yet Cindy is far more competent than she allows herself to know and even more competent than she seems most of the time.
One of Fielding's specialties is writing about such women. Generally in the course of Fielding's books, the women learn lessons from being in truly tough situations and are far wiser by the conclusion. A good example from a few years ago is SEE JANE RUN.
In LOST Cindy needs and gets, though she is frequently overwhelmed by the support of her sister, her mother and two close female friends. The women are all good characters, well written and always amusing. Early on, one of the female friends introduces Cindy to Neil Macfarlane, who is also a good character --- in fact, he's the kind of man most divorced women would go to great lengths to meet --- and he falls into Cindy's lap via a blind date. But by then, Julia's disappearance has taken hold and Cindy is not in a very good place to begin a relationship with anyone. That this does not deter Neil in the least is to his credit.
LOST is well written. The dialogue is always entertaining. The characters are engaging and fun. There are some fascinating insider tidbits about the entertainment business (Tom is an entertainment lawyer) and the book takes place during the Toronto film festival. The Toronto setting is heightened by the fact that Toronto is Joy Fielding's hometown.
However, there is no depth here. The people in this book are skating along on the surface of life, leaving unexplored a whole lot of darkness and seriousness beneath. This bothered me. Maybe it won't bother you. If it doesn't, you can read LOST and have a good time.
Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 22, 2011