What should have been a powerful lens on the disorientation of grief —the rational scientist suddenly believing she’s in touch with a ghost — feels instead like fake drama, its explanation always obvious, and then it seems simply to be forgotten for much of the novel before eventually reappearing to be resolved. This is a long and distractible book, forever flitting between subjects as it tries to do too much, and in which its excellent, much-wanted details and insight sadly end up a little lost.
Helen and Charlie become entangled at Harvard then spin off to opposing coasts — Charlie landing as a screenwriter in Helen’s hometown of LA and Helen becoming a professor in Boston, near Charlie’s childhood home. Charlie is arts, Helen is science; Charlie is black, Helen is white; Charlie is East Coast, Helen is West. That their polarisation does not feel contrived is a testament to Freudenberger’s writing.
Acute about children and grief, this multi‑layered narrative tackles a range of meaty subjects — from the age-old conflict between faith and rationalism, to the challenges faced by women in high-flying industries.
Tender, sharply observed and marvellously rich.
According to Helen, what marks out pseudoscience is that “every piece fits neatly inside a theory”, whereas in the real thing nothing is simplified to find “a meaningful pattern”. It is Freudenberger’s similar willingness to accept human contradictions here — and to lay them out with a combination of calm rigour and rueful comedy — that so triumphantly makes Lost and Wanted the real thing too.
US novelist Freudenberger is new to me, although she has picked up major accolades stateside. This, her third novel, is narrated by Helen, a prodigiously gifted professor of physics at MIT and a single mother by choice, who learns that Charlie, her closest friend from university, has died. As she deals with her grief, and that of Charlie's husband and child, she recalls their friendship. Freudenberger weaves Helen's professional life into the narrative, which I found fascinating, but this is ultimately a novel about the emotional forces that act upon us.