Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"How we move toward the margins of our own lives, inch by inch"


Let me start this review by saying that I've read and reviewed Gregory Maguire's most famous and critically-acclaimed work entitled Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was turned into a Broadway musical hit--and I didn't end up being as impressed about it as I hoped I would be. With that said, I already have extremely low expectations going into this book. It's also noteworthy to point out tha I've read some reviews about it in Goodreads, and they seemed to generally criticize the convoluted plot and subplots, as well as the lack of any clear pay-off in the end. Author Maguire himself has been known to write novels about well-known fictional characters created by other, much like with Wicked whose central figure if the supposed villain of the original Wizard of Oz books. Lost is the very first time, I believe, that he wrote about an original character. There is a lot about this novel that was entertaining. I honestly enjoyed it.

The question, however, is if it remained as engaging as it was in its first 200 pages or so, and the short answer is that IT DIDN'T. I think I'm going to have to agree on the majority of the review in GR then by saying so, but I would also still like to commend its merits for anyone who is interested in picking this up. Lost is a confounding piece of fiction, to start off. The narrative itself is a fractured examination of the lead character's psyche who is a novelist working on her own tale. Winifred Rudge is a storyteller, even when she's not sitting down with a pen and paper, or typing in a computer. She creates conversations in her head where fictional people would exchange dialogue as they pursue a plot that they want to unravel. The novel is filled with passages of Winifred writing this story of hers in her head, all the while having a crisis and struggle of her own outside of her imagination.

I find Winnie's 'drafts' of her novel inserted between the passages of the actual real-time story to be amusing. She was essentially writing a story about a woman named Wendy who is fixated on finding out who the real Jack the Ripper is. It's an investigative mystery novel then, which is more or less inspired by the weird series of events Winifred herself got caught up in. The premise of Lost is simple enough: an aspiring novelist writes a historical crime fiction while also undergoing a stressful amount of unusual incidents in her life outside her writing. Winifred struck me as the kind of woman so detached with her own person that she's been using her ability to tell stories to cope from daily grievances. Until she was confronted by seemingly supernatural forces that more or less haunt the apartment complex she shared with a distant cousin, Winnie was possibly more content with dwelling on her her inner life than forming any other kind of meaningful relationships outside her cousin John.



" ...because what really is the job of the dead? It's not to hang around, but to disappear--to clear the air for the living. Once the living had discharged their duties to their dead relatives and companions, they could go back to living a full life. The goal of a ghost is to dismiss it and leave the living to have a full life without guilt or undue grief. "


It's truly the Maguire's execution of the novel that set it apart from most linearly structured narratives. There is so much meta material in this novel that could baffle and excite readers from the get-go. I was really enthralled with Winnie's voice both as a character, and as a writer writing another fictional character's thoughts. Maguire applies enough humorous tones in a lot of the earlier scenes of this book that kept me chuckling. I was engrossed with the escalation of events which started off funny then creepy and then disarmingly disturbing. To describe Lost as a horror story with supernatural elements would not be sufficient since I don't think the novel's purpose was to incite fear and suspense. If it was, then Maguire certainly should have done better because any sense of danger and urgency was not sustained throughout the rest of the book. 

In fact, the plot started meandering. The things that amused me and got me curious about it suddenly became the very things that annoyed me by it. It almost felt as if the more I learned about the mysteries surrounding the place of haunting, the less I became determined to solve the riddles which cluttered the exposition. Winifred also started getting under my nerves. I found her clever and funny in a lot of ways at first, but after a while--when she still insisted on being so closed off and reticent even to readers--her actions and private thoughts stopped being an immediate concern of mine. I started to feel just as detached as she was about her own life. She just started making less sense as the book went on.

The concept that one of Winifred's ancestors was actually Charles Dickens' inspiration for the character of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol was intriguing. The idea that Winifred created an obvious self-insert in her character Wendy who is searching for Jack the Ripper is just as compelling. However, Maguire was simply unable to weave these two concepts together in a way that's cohesive and interesting. After two hundred pages or so, my attention for the story started to dwindle until I could barely keep up with whatever stunning revelations were unfolding--and I don't even think there were.

Lost was just one of those books that seem to be a worthwhile reading at first until it proved to be a disappointment. It's always sad when you find a book you could hardly put down when you began reading it a hundred pages in, and then as you progress your first impression about it changes for the worst, until you'd find yourself wanting to put it down instead. That's how I would summarize my experience for this book. I could still recommend it, but it's probably the least Gregory Maguire book that one could immerse oneself in.


RECOMMENDED: 7/10

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