On ‘Lost and Wanted’

I wasn’t sure, at first, how I was feeling about Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted. It seemed like a textbook case of why teachers give the advice to “show don’t tell.” But I found myself identifying with the structured, reserved, cerebral narrator and drawn in by the topical structure—astrophysics—for which I have a novice’s fascination.

And then the novel became more, built up layers and nuances, revealed its design and structure.

It’s a book about grief, and the loneliness of adulthood. It’s about the random unfairness of human life, and the ways we compile knowledge or construct our lives in order to bury our existential fear of that randomness.

It’s about parenting, and the impossibility of not fucking it up, and how that’s human, part of being both a parent and a child. It’s about friendship—between women, between men and women—and the murkiness that can descend when you’ve joined yourself to other people.

It’s about the complexity of human relationships—lovers, friends, colleagues, mentors, family—and how no one person can be all things to another person, how even our closest loved ones have aspects we don’t get to see. That hurts. It’s heart-breaking. But it’s true.

The novel is about physics and academia, about the gorgeousness of pursuing knowledge for its own sake and no other reason, even if it seems futile or wasteful or esoteric at times or to others. It’s about acknowledging that intellect cannot save us from being messy, emotional creatures.

It’s about accepting that not everyone can or should take the same path, and that people will change and change their minds, over time. It’s about being in relationship with the people that random, unpredictable, uncontrollable chance has put into your life. And it’s about tangling with the fact that you will lose them.