From socks to car keys, some things just seem to get lost. We may also find we lose our minds or our way. What happens to all that is lost, the tangible and the proverbial? Is there a place where it all ends up? Sarah Beth Durst imagines this place, its items and residents in her latest novel, THE LOST.
Lauren Chase got in her car and just started driving. She was driving away from the imminent bad news about her mother’s cancer and away from her sadness and anger. She kept driving until she was lost and almost out of gas. Finally, she came upon a small, desolate town named, appropriately enough, Lost. Walking across the motel parking lot, Lauren stepped over all manner of seemingly discarded items: cans and clothing, wallets with their contents scattered. She rented a room from a strange young woman and ate a meal at the diner down the street. Everyone she encountered acted oddly, speaking in cryptic sentences. When Lauren finally decides to get back on the road, she finds she is thwarted by a massive dust storm and by the fact that any direction she heads leads her back to Lost.
"This is an entertaining and inventive read with an interesting setting, a couple of emotional wallops and a cliffhanger ending."
Finally, just about out of gas, with no food or cell phone reception, she receives help from a handsome, mysterious and powerful man named Peter, whom the townspeople know as the Finder. It seems Lauren is stuck in Lost until she can discover what it is she lost and recover it. However, the man who the inhabitants rely on to help them, the Missing Man, ran off as soon as he heard Lauren's name. Now, not only is Lauren stuck in Lost, so are all of the people who were waiting for the Missing Man to help them, too. Alone, frightened and with no resources, Lauren meets six-year-old Claire, who --- with her amazing survival skills, along with Peter --- helps Lauren make a home for herself in Lost.
As the days go by, Lauren, Claire and Peter become a kind of family. But Lauren still is pulled to her home in California and to her mother. When she discovers a talent for helping the citizens of the town find what they need, she is torn between assisting them and trying to recover her old life. Staying in Lost means staying with Claire and Peter, both of whom she has come to love, but she knows her mother is dying without her back home. When she does manage to get to her mother's side, she learns that the past few months may have been very different from what she believed them to be. Now Lauren must try to learn what world is real and if it is possible to find her true self in either place.
This is an entertaining and inventive read with an interesting setting, a couple of emotional wallops and a cliffhanger ending. Durst's narrative flows smoothly, though sometimes slowly, and the peculiar and puzzling aspects of the story come into sharper focus as it moves forward. Lauren, a character who at the outset avoids complicated emotions, must confront different types of love and hurts, growing in emotionally complicated ways through the novel. Some of the book’s creakiness hopefully will be worked out, resulting in a more well-oiled follow-up in THE MISSING.
THE LOST is nicely conceived and mostly successful plot- and style-wise. Durst's descriptive details, imagination and variety of characters, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, make it a worthwhile read.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 30, 2014