On this cool, bright morning, I am sipping a hot cup of chai tea and eating a piece of apple strudel from Norris Bakery (yum!) while I think about what I read last week.
My “friends” book group got together on Thursday night to discuss How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward. I have heard of this author, but had never read anything by her, so was quite interested to check it out. This novel tells the story of a New York middle class family who is trying to finally come to terms with the disappearance of the youngest daughter, Ellie, when she was just five years old. On the day the three daughters were planning to run away from their abusive, drunken father, Ellie never showed up at the prearranged meeting spot outside the school, where the sisters were to begin their adventures in New Orleans. Of course, everyone blamed themselves, and no answers were ever found. Fifteen years later, the remaining daughters and the mother are trying, not very successfully, to find closure. Madeline, the middle daughter, has a Wall Street banker husband and a perfect middle class marriage, yet she is haunted by the disappearance of Ellie. Oldest daughter Caroline is a former pianist-star hopeful, now working a dead-end job as a waitress in a dive bar in New Orleans, having never really given up hope that one day they would find Ellie. Determined never to spend another Christmas back in New York, her resolve is nevertheless broken when her mother calls and insists that she return for the festivities of the season. The father has been dead for some years, but the gloom continues to hang over the family palpably, and mother and daughter try to escape through excessive alcohol consumption. Only Madeline seems able to accept the inevitability of the situation and want to move on, but she can’t do so unless she has the support of the rest of the family. When Caroline’s mother shows her a picture from a People Magazine and points out a woman in the crowd whom she is certain is grown-up Ellie, Caroline, desperate for a focus to her life, takes up the challenge and heads to Montana in the hope of finding this “face in the crowd”. What ensues is a search for self, for closure, and for love, and as well as a struggle to decide whether to help the sister you have or to search for the one you have lost. Told mainly from the point of view of Caroline, this is at once a mystery and a family drama. While it is mostly depressing in tone, this reader felt that the mood picked up once Part Two began. The group discussed a few points about the story, mainly the character of Agnes Fowler, who she was and how she fit into the story. The author did not give away all the pieces of the puzzle, which was good, as it left something to the reader’s imagination. We discussed the fact that the main character, Caroline, did not have much character development, and someone pointed out that the dialogue was not very unique or inspired. While we all agreed with this (Ward is no A S A Harrison!), we also felt that the empty dialogue was possibly meant to reflect the emptiness in the soul and life of the character. That may be giving too much credit to the author, but perhaps Ward meant this to be more plot-driven than character-driven. Anyway, it was a little bit clichéd, but well worth the reading time I invested, and definitely a good selection for book club discussion.
I thought I would have time to read another novel before post time, but I got distracted doing other things, so that’s all I have to write about for today.
Bye for now...