Thursday, April 30, 2009

what was lost

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.


  1. I'm sorry that the garden and work on your book aren't progressing the way you'd like them to. Hang in there. :-)

  2. F*%kin' Matt...he needs to bring your dirt! *hahaha!* So you can commence with participating in springtime growth...digging, watering, tending, seeding, and rooting around in general! I'm so impatient. I read the first few pages of that book over at does sound good...

  3. It's my turn to select our next book club book and I think I have my pick!

    This sounds right up my alley.

    And I loved the Secret History too.

  4. Wow. Thanks for the recommendation.

    I, too, had a bout of the late-thirties syndrome a couple of months back (the whine flu?) and had to come to terms with the fact that age is changing me in some small ways that feel pretty blech. Blase ensued.

    I took some time for myself and refocused. It was important time, and although all has not turned out as I originally intended, I am happy with my present course.

    I want you to know, as your friend, that periods of meh are not unusual. And stalling on the book just may mean you're ready to take the project in a different direction. Be open to the possibilities, and I'm sure the way forward will become more clear.

    As for the karate boys, I hope you make chop suey out of them.

    - Julia

    ps. Matt can go to hell. Either he brings the dirt or he loses the business. Please call him and kick his ass on my behalf.

  5. I've picked up this book several times, but never bought it. Hmmm, I'll have to rethink that.

  6. Now that's a great book recommendation. I will add this one to my list for sure.

    Especially since you invoked The Secret History, which is one of my very favorite books.

    Glad you feel renewed - now how about getting you your topsoil, huh?

  7. Oh, is there any way you will end up getting your dirt? That's just yucky if you don't.

    I love mystery novels. Just finished my current one yesterday afternoon. I couldn't stop until I was done. I even skimmed through the last couple of pages again this morning. This stuff is addicting.

  8. Thanks for the great tip -- I've not been reading much lately but can't wait to read this one.

  9. Think I shall go check out the recommended books because a bit of recharging is just the thing before the kiddies get out of jail... er, school for the summer.

  10. Oh good grief, don't you know there isn't a decent bookstore on this island?

    Torture me why dontcha. I hope you NEVER get your dirt! Mwahahaha! At least until some kind person brings me a copy of that book from foreign.

  11. I finally got my garden in yesterday and today I am trying to recover from all that digging. Worm castings were all I could see last night as I stretched my aching self out to sleep. I hope yours gets in there soon! It is such a relief once it's in! I didn't have to grade mine or anything though! I got the book in the mail today! THANK YOU! I am still so pleased to have won and have been keeping my promise about the veggie meals--have eaten vegetarian all week now! Thanks for the impetus!

  12. This sounds like an awesome book! I'm sorry the garden isn't progressing. If it's any consolation, you're avoiding the frost risk.

  13. I will definitely add it to my list--which I should be able to get to in about 2 weeks. I can't wait.

  14. Just wanted to tell you - pushing 40 - you're a spring chicken compared to me.

    Bock, bock...

  15. I'd heard of this book but hadn't gotten it. Now it's going to be the next one I pick up!

  16. I added What was Lost to my book list. I loved The Secret History.

  17. Is this just a girlie book, or should guys consider reading it, too?

  18. Oh, THANK YOU for this reading tip...but stop reminding me that it's been 20 years since THE SECRET HISTORY.

    'Cause that means I'm old.


Spill it, reader.