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Posts Tagged ‘Lost and Wanted’

lostandwanted“In the first few months after Charlie died, I began hearing from her much more frequently.”

That’s how Nell Freudenberger begins her new novel Lost and Wanted (Knopf, digital galley), a haunting tale of friendship, loss and, well, physics. The latter comes courtesy of narrator Helen Clapp, a MIT professor known for her research on five-dimensional spacetime and two accessible books on cosmology and black holes.  Devastated by the unexpected news that her Harvard roommate Charlotte Boyce has died in California, she’s puzzled by subsequent texts and e-mails from her best friend. There has to be a rational explanation, probably something to do with a missing cell phone. Still…

Freudenberger uses the mystery of the messages to explore the greater mystery of the trajectory of friendship over time. Helen remembers how, 20 years ago, “an upper-middle-class black girl from Brookline and a work-study white science nerd from Pasadena”  bonded during freshman orientation.  The connection has loosened of late. Charlie moved west to pursue her career as a TV screenwriter and producer,  married a surfer, had a daughter, struggled with lupus. Meanwhile, Helen’s been happy with academia and her 7-year-old son Jack, whose father is an anonymous sperm donor. Yet, the sudden fact of Charlie gone, no longer living, knocks her flat, especially when Charlie’s husband Terrence and 9-year-old daughter Simmi move to Boston. Grief for Charlie and their lost past is further compounded by the arrival of Neel, Helen’s college boyfriend and her long-time research partner. He’s a member of a team that’s made the most exciting breakthrough in physics in years. He also has personal news.

Helen can easily explain gravitational waves, the uncertainty principle and chaos theory to her students. She has a harder time reconciling mind and heart to the inexplicable. “Scientific analogies for emotional states are imprecise,” she thinks, “but recently I’ve been finding them difficult to avoid.”

Lost and Wanted takes its title from an Auden poem read at Charlie’s memorial service that takes on greater significance as all who loved Charlie deal with her absence and how it’s reconfigured their world.  It’s a lovely poem, and Lost and Wanted is a lovely book. As soon as I finished it, I started over. It’s that good.

So is Sally Rooney’s new novel. I liked her first one, Conversations with Friends. But I love Normal People (Crown/Archetype, digital galley). And I’m not alone in raving about the 28-year-old Irish writer’s second book, which won the Costa Novel Award and was longlisted for the Man Booker. But my favorite thing anyone has said about this compulsively readable book is what my publishing friend Jen Adkins Reynolds posted on Facebook: “This was so good, even if reading it was a thousand paper cuts to the heart.”

Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron are both seniors at the same school in a small Irish town. Both are really smart, but Connell’s the popular one, a good-looking athlete, while she’s an awkward outsider. At school, they ignore each other, but Connell’s warm-hearted mom cleans house for Marianne’s wealthy, aloof mother, and it’s at her house that Connell and Marianne make small talk and then hook up. Connell insists on keeping their relationship a secret, and Marianne doesn’t care until he asks another girl to the end-of-school dance and breaks her heart.

“I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people,” Marianne says at one point. “I don’t know why I can’t make people love me.”

Marianne’s low self-esteem, burnished by her emotionally abusive family, will continue to be a problem when she and Connell meet again in the fall at Trinity College, Dublin, even though their social roles have reversed. She’s now the admired one in a bright, witty crowd and has a new boyfriend. He’s the outsider, uncomfortable and insecure.

Rooney follows their on-and-off again relationship over four years, deftly alternating perspectives, zooming in on their messy emotions, frequent misunderstandings and most intimate moments. He suffers from depression; she deliberately seeks out men who mistreat her. Their connection to each other is intense, thrilling, painful, impossible, necessary. They can’t talk about it, or when they do, the words come out wrong.

That’s not the case with Rooney’s writing. Normal People is a deceptively simple story told in direct, unadorned prose that is scalpel-sharp. Someone asked me why I prefer it to Conversations with Friends, which is similar in style. I think it comes down to the characters. Marianne and Connell are sympathetic, vulnerable and oh so young. I wish them well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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