The Loss of All Lost Things
By Amina Gautier
Elixir Press, 2016
200 pages, $19
Reviewed by Megan Fahey
The short stories in this latest collection from Amina Gautier are beautiful at their worst and devastating at their best. It’s difficult to describe the experience of reading this book, these stories together, because The Loss of All Lost Things is not the kind of book you can’t put down. It’s the kind of book that breaks your heart again and again then screams to be picked back up. One of Gautier’s characters—a rich woman with an inexplicable desire to return to her impoverished past—admits, “I let out a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding,” which gets to the true joy of the book—not reading from the outside, objectively, but as one existing within the story, experiencing loss with the characters rather than reading about them–loss of jobs, loss of civilizations, loss of innocence, etc.
Indeed, many of Gautier’s narrators are characters we’ve seen a thousand times before: university students or professors or librarians or writers of rejection letters, many have MFAs or travel out-of-state for artists’ residencies where they find themselves lusting after colleagues with similar experiences and intellects. However, the most memorable characters from this collection are the ones who are fresh and strange: a kidnapper named Thisman, a mother who must choose between the twins fighting in her womb, a grieving widower who spends another Thanksgiving alone with an underdone turkey. These stories especially, with their dramatic surprises, diverge at the intersection of delightful intention and stark reality where Gautier drops a pin right on that word—loss—and invites readers to observe as it wriggles around on the map.
But these characters do more than simply exist in the vacuous space of the page. They explode into each story from the first lines and never stop to rest.
Falling into step with the boy, Thisman draws close and whispers in a voice only for him. Says, “I wish I had a little boy just like you. I wish you were my own,” and the boy believes it, every single word (From “Lost and Found” 1).
How can he think of anything but the devastation of Pompeii, the prosperous town covered in twenty feet of white ash when he stands before the fifteen students in his eleven o’clock class? (From “Cicero Waiting” 68).
The two boys are fighting inside of me. I can feel them doing it, making a commotion, sapping all of my energy. I make it to the bathroom and slap a wet washcloth over my forehead, dragging it down over my eyes and cheeks as I try to do deep breathing. Now I see hollows and shadows in my face where before I saw only beauty. I am worn (From “A Cup of my Time” 105).
While loss is, of course, the overarching theme which unifies all the stories in the collection, Gautier’s eponymous story, “The Loss of All Lost Things,” contains the most lamentable loss of all—the loss of a child. This story follows the parents of a missing boy who show us that dealing with loss is a process that doesn’t have guidelines or endings. There is no correct or incorrect behavior. There is only action or there is inaction. Both are necessary and tragic. The parents begin by putting up posters. “They count his absence in days, the way parents count the age of infants in months, hoping the incremental tallying will somehow make time slow down, make the seconds add up less quickly.” They avoid coming home then they never leave the house. They forget how to raise their other son. They feel guilty for grieving, for watching television, for being alive. They make plans to start again, though they know they never can.
One last word of warning before ordering the book from Elixir Press:
Upon completing “The Loss of All Lost Things,” you too may feel as though you’ve let something breeze by before your eyes, like a feather that slips through your fingers, like time you can’t get back. Gautier says it best in “A Brief Pause”: “They clear their throats, struggling to make themselves seem unaffected, but if you listen, you can hear how hard it is to let go.”