Book review: Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst

Lost and Found
by Carolyn Parkhurst
Back Bay Books, 2007.

Lost and Found is the title of a TV game show, in which contestants race round the world by interpreting clues, both about the next destination and about what object they need to find when they arrive. The participants are couples: although there are several of these teams, the book focuses mainly on a few of them – mother and daughter Laura and Cassie; married “born again Christian ex-gays” Abby and Justin; “goofy” brothers Carl and Jeff; and two ex-child Hollywood stars Juliet and Dallas. Barbara is the rather insecure presenter of the show; she is disliked by the contestants because of her Barbie-doll, robotic personality. Barbara and the producers, whose careers depend on ratings success, have selected the couples for reasons that may not be entirely transparent, and are likely to skew the various contests to encourage inadvertent revelations.

The most interesting aspects of the novel are the stories of the main participants – there are uneasy dynamics within each couple, as well as secrets between the individuals concerned, which we learn about as the competition continues. Cassie and her mother Laura are the most well-developed of these, as the pair try to come to terms with a shocking event in their recent past as well as to re-establish their relationship on a more adult basis than that of a parent and child. Abby and Justin, unsurprisingly, struggle in their separate ways with their past decision to renounce their sexuality and make their marriage work. Juliet is a hard-as-nails young woman, with her eye always on the camera and the chance of reviving her non-career. She is fed up with her partner Dallas, who is not the brightest spark, so behaves manipulatively to improve her chances of victory. Carl is the butt of his brother’s stupid jokes but is concealing his own sadness.

The less interesting aspects of the book concern the game itself. I haven’t watched any reality TV but one can hardly be unaware of some of the things that are now considered acceptable, and regularly occur, on these programmes. Hence the “lost and found” competition is rather tame and dated, indeed it is hard to imagine a popular audience being interested in some of the tasks set even with editing out much of it, for example how long someone can stay awake for, how long they can stand being buried in hot sand, or doing some complex embroidery. I was also a bit surprised at the extent of the programme’s budget! Hence as a satire of a practice that in real life is beyond parody, the book cannot, and does not, really work.

The novel therefore stands or falls on our interest in the contestants themselves, their secrets, and how they resolve their sexual-orientation or emotional dilemmas. Although I was mildly interested in them, I didn’t care all that much – and by the end of the book I didn’t feel that the author had pushed any boundaries, but instead had settled for an inconclusive outcome across the board. I think this novel lacks the bite and emotional power of the author’s debut, Lorelei’s Secret, and the maturity of her third novel, The Nobodies Album. Nonetheless, it is well-written and readable, what one might term a “beach read”, and it’s interesting to see in Laura the sketch for the character of Octavia in The Nobodies Album.

I purchased this book.

Other reviews of Lost and Found: Bookreporter, The Washington Post, Mostly Fiction and The Seattle Times.

Blogcritics interview with the author about this book.

About Lost and Found at the author’s website.

12 thoughts on “Book review: Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst

    • No, it isn’t as I discovered, Kerrie! I read her previous and her next, which are, but this one is a departure.

  1. It’s interesting that you bought this Maxine as the reality-show aspect would have put me off I think. I have heard of the author – I think her books sell well.

    • To be honest I just bought it because I loved the author’s other books, Sarah – maybe if she’d introduced a crime element into this one it would have had a bit more bite or dynamism.

  2. Will skip this one I think though still have The Nobodies Album on my wishlist.

    As for the reality show this one is parodying – the real world version of it – The Amazing Race – is relatively tame – or at least it was the season I watched when I knew one of the couples who were competing – I remember one of their tasks was to sort out the balls from a giant children’s ball pit into colours – it took ages and made for very boring tv – not a patch on the kind of nonsense that I gather goes on in some of the other shows (that I don’t watch but glean enough about from glancing at newspaper headlines and occasionally having to enter the tea room at work while people are discussing the reality show of the moment)

    • Sounds very boring, Bernadette – mind you how interesting is it watching people eat rat’s testicles or whatever they do on the “real” versions these days? No wish to find out 😉

  3. Maxine – I don’t watch reality TV either, but from what you describe and what I know of it, this show definitely doesn’t sound like a serious threat to its competition. I am sorry that you didn’t end up caring about the characters more, since the story depends so much on them. Nope, not going to put this on the TBR, methinks…

    • Thanks, Judith! If you do read one of her books, The Nobodies Album is much better than this one, in my opinion.

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