Loss is a sacred thing. In The Loss of All Lost Things it is held in such regard that it becomes an isolating and painfully lonely reminder of things that were, and are, lost and never coming back. Many characters hold on to loss because it is all they have. In the brilliant span of this collection of stories, we deal with loss repeatedly in all its many facets, whether through the abduction of a child, the sudden death of a spouse, or even a wife who says in a letter she is never returning. In the opening story “Lost And Found,” a young boy is kidnapped by a man named Thisman. “I wish I had a little boy just like you,” he says, “I wish you were my own.” Without ever saying so, the story makes things clear. This young boy has been abducted and we are witnesses not to the abduction, or even the life of this boy, but to the loss and all the things that are associated with it.
There are no action scenes. We never witness a death, an abduction, or a sexual act in writing. We’re dealing with scenes so deep that we witness them in a poetic sense – through the residual feeling they evoke. In “As I Wander” a woman who quickly married a dying man becomes a widow. She sits in the park until the sun comes up, waiting and watching her neighbor Sampson – a retired professor who lives alone. When Judy notices a young student approach Sampson’s door when he is not home, she invites him in. Here, author Amina Gautier turns the story on its head – as she’s prone to do – and changes things dramatically.
In the title story “The Loss of All Lost Things,” a husband and wife deal with their youngest son’s abduction – he leaves school and never returns home. “It’s not as if he has been misplaced. Its nothing like losing ones keys… ” an outside narrator tells us. Like the ending of “Lost And Found” we return to a similar theme: placing a label on grief and situations where words fail.
The theme of language is prevalent throughout, and I like how Gautier uses this technique to describe events where words would normally diminish their impact. She removes the action of these events, and gives us the difficult aftermath – the lonely, individual desperation of human beings left entirely without cause after the searching is over. In their loneliness they attempt to connect with anyone they can.
Even in “Lost and Found” the theme of language and being able to put these situations into words is prevalent: “He prefers the word lost instead of taken, Lost is much better. Things that are taken are never given back… plucked from the curb like a penny found on the sidewalk.” The comparison here is an attempt to put one of the most haunting losses (the loss of a child) into words. “Lost and Found” gives us the perspective of the child – confused and alone – while “The Loss of All Lost Things” gives us the perspective of the parents that are stuck in a permanent fixture of blame and guilt. They unblinkingly watch TV, afraid to laugh, and they don’t dare indulge in sex any longer. The overwhelming guilt has them afraid of moving.
These are residual details that recur and become haunting in the way that, although small, seem to make their way into every story: the child to parent relationship, loss of love between spouses, the inability to express in words, little things like old TV shows (The Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy), and the metaphor of being trapped in ash in Pompeii as a permanent fixture in space. All of these seem to appear in various places, making the stories feel connected. They are also reminders that the little boy from “Lost and Found” is still out there. We’re just as much in limbo to his outcome, or any characters, as anyone else. Here, Gautier uses our imagination to create heart-breaking and haunting stories.
Consider the story “Resident Writer,” which encompasses all themes of loss and loneliness. College professor Ray receives a letter from his wife, who is staying at a writing residency, stating that she will not be returning home. She has been gone for two months, fallen in love with an installation artist, and declares her separation from him. Ray doesn’t write back. It is written, “He went on, careful not to let his inward turmoil appear on the surface.” This is like so many characters in The Loss of All Lost Things that endure despite, not just loss, but devastation so outright that life is taken right out of them, leaving many of our characters as shells. Some of them are on the rebound. Some are tragically lost in limbo. In their grief, who they seek and what actions they take may seem like unorthodox fiction, but when we look deeper we realize they’re spontaneous calls for help. The tragedy comes in cases like the little boy in “Lost and Found” – powerless and alone – when he calls home and the voice on the other end is a stranger, and in cases like “As I Wander” where Judy – a widow – takes in a perfect stranger. It does not matter who answers, as long it is someone. It makes Amina Gautier’s message clear: what we have in life can be lost and then desired in a whim.
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