The answer? My ennui. Despite the formidable blessings in my life, I've felt a little bored, anxious, unable to sleep at night lately. I've had my ass handed to me repeatedly in karate by boys half my age (as evidenced by a series of bruises on my legs and a chronic ache in my right shoulder from holding hand targets--I can't even reach behind my back and uhook my own bra strap without a struggle). Last night I tested for my brown stripe belt, and while I passed, I'm accepting that I do possess the body of a woman pushing 40. I spend too much time playing mah jong online because I'm stalled on my book, which is due to my writing group mid-May. I write in circles and I haven't heard diddley-squat from my literary agent because the economy sucks and he's beholden to a system that isn't working. It looks like I'll again miss the first opportunity to plant my vegetable garden because Matt (the dude who will only talk to Mr. D because he is in awe of my awesomeness which is legendary) won't show up with a couple loads of topsoil and grade the space for my new potager. I flit from book to book, feeling quite meh about what I've got to read, but I made a vow not to buy any more books until I've read what I own.
Last fall I bought my mom some books for her birthday, including one that was a #1 Indie Pick and Costa First Novel Award winner. The plot seemed convoluted based on the back cover description, but a cursory read of a few paragraphs revealed stellar prose so I put it on the stack.
"Sometimes I imagine that I'm the subject of some nature documentary for another species. I think of them watching me spending my life walking around empty corridors and checking doors that are locked. I try to imagine the commentary. I think they'd be baffled." They were silent for a few minutes and then he added, "The thing is, even when I'm not thinking about nature documentaries, I still feel like I'm being watched. Do you get that?"
My mom returned it to me, I'm not sure if she finished it, but she didn't care for it.
I finally picked it off my stack Sunday. I've been lost ever since.
I guessed that Catherine O'Flynn probably had a dilly of a time getting this published--and this article proved my assumption correct. It's too unconventional, too clever, too deep and too brilliant to market alongside the mindless drivel peddled to readers. O'Flynn writes circles around the likes of Nicholas Sparks, yet she doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator like William P. Young or Dan Brown. She got her break from a small independent publisher, Tindal Street. According to this article, 10 of Tindal Street's titles have been listed for literary prizes.
What Was Lost made me laugh out loud. It made me gasp. It kept me riveted from the very first page. O'Flynn is a masterful writer--blending setting and characters and plot to create one of the most haunting books I've read in quite a while. I tried so hard to read the last 30 pages last night, but I fell asleep before I could finish (an 80-minutes karate test will do that to you). This morning, at 6:00, I read the last 10 pages and sat stunned for a while. It was one of those Sixth Sense sort of endings. I paged back through the book to re-read sections, to confirm the ending, to see if I might have ever guessed--the clues were placed along the way, fair and square. This was no coy plotting device. It was a work of sheer genius. I'll tell you no more about the story, other than what is on the back cover:
It's the 1980's and Kate Meaney--"Top Secret" notebook and toy monkey in tow--is hard at work as a junior detective. Busy trailing "suspects" and carefully observing everything around her at the newly opened Green Oaks shopping mall, she forms an unlikely friendship with Adrian, the son of a local shopkeeper. But when this curious, independent-minded young girl disappears, Adrian falls under suspicion and is hounded out of his home by the press.
Twenty years later, Adrian's sister Lisa--stuck in a dead-end relationship--is working as an assistant manager at a record store in the same mall. Exasperated by the outrageous behavior of customers and colleagues, she longs for a more fulfilling life. But then, along with a security guard, Kurt, she becomes entranced by the little girl glimpsed on the mall's surveillance cameras. As their after-hours relationship intensifies, Lisa and Kurt investigate how these sightings might be connected to Kate Meaney's disappearance--as well as to the unsettling history of Green Oaks itself.
Twenty years ago I read Donna Tartt's book The Secret History, a mystery that opened the first chapter by revealing whodunnit--you had to read the rest of the book to learn how and why. I remember my pleasure, the revelation of a book that twisted the rules, and my admiration for the author's skill. The Secret History reminded me of reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, another book that turned the tables on the reader.
I'm glad for the mental work out this book provided. I feel compelled to attack life with vigor again, perhaps because I recognized myself in the characters and their lives or perhaps because at last something has caught and held my attention.
What Was Lost. Grab a copy and read it.