Reviews, Vol. 1.2, Sept. 2007
Flame Books, 2007
Paperback, 265 pp., £8
Review by Cynthia Reeser
At the beginning of summer on the seaside town of West Beach, the artlessly drawn eye of Donald Duck watches as children and tourists find their way to an ice cream van. Tourists come and go, strangers linger. How many ways are there of getting lost, of losing oneself?
Janie is a young teen whose summer vacation launches on the disappearance of two girls her age from West Beach. As a native of the town, she knows at heart what the other residents know; that there is really nothing unusual about the girls’ disappearance. After all it happens every year, somewhere. People get lost, go missing, all the time. Time goes by, and people forget because it didn’t happen to them. After all, Janie reflects, “It’s amazing how quickly tourists can disappear. Like lemmings…” But in the flurry of media coverage which hovers so close to home, Janie’s investigation is borne partly from a sense of obligation and partly from a very personal need to discover who, or what, has been lost.
In her debut novel, Megan Taylor quietly steps aside to let the reader in on the world she wants revealed. Taylor’s voice is loyal to her characters, and to the subject. Her narrative lyricism becomes Janie’s, the keen observations fully those of her character. A precocious young teen, Janie grows sensitively aware of the fragility of life, even the delicate nature of her own “…eyeballs in sockets. Bones beneath skin. I don’t want to think about how loose, how precarious, it all is; as though we’re held together with nothing more than lolly sticks and bits of string.”
The seaside town with all its colorful tourists and their accoutrements develops a life of its own through Janie. She takes us with her through the obsession, the need, to find the missing girls, her missing girls, as her own family life begins to fracture and crumble around her daydreams.
As Janie uncovers layers, familial half-truths emerge which have remained partially hidden like forgotten sand pails beginning to reveal themselves by the inevitable wash of tides. She begins to understand that the true nature of her own family has been lost to her, and her search becomes one not only for the missing girls, but for the circumstances surrounding her long-absent mother. In the process, a delicately-handled and brilliantly descriptive self-discovery takes place for Janie.
Taylor provides for the reader a well-rounded, though (appropriately) misguided young girl who does not always see things, or people, for what they are. The acute handling of subject matter and Taylor’s eye for detail work to lend the reader a sense of what it means to search, to really search, for someone or something, only to find that the process of discovery is perhaps paramount to the outcome itself. One emerges with a somewhat sharpened sense of, to paraphrase Taylor, how easily it can all come apart.
How We Were Lost is available in a handsome paperback copy from Flame Books. Find the publisher online at http://www.flamebooks.com/main.asp.