Amanda Eyre Ward is a talented author whose second novel, How To Be Lost, is a well-crafted tale of the emotional landscape of loss. From an upper-class New York neighborhood to New Orleans night life to the dank bars of Missoula, Montana, all roads lead back home.
This is an "elephant in the living room" story, where tragedy all but destroys an already on-the-edge-of-disaster family. From the outside, the Wintersí appear perfect: the successful stockbroker father, beautiful former-model mother and three daughters all living in comfort. But behind closed doors, the mother sleeps through her unhappiness, the father drinks himself into oblivion, and the two older daughters comfort their younger sister, creating their own imaginary world amid the chaos.
Then the unthinkable happens: the youngest daughter, Ellie, disappears. Caroline and Madeline both feel responsible, although neither talks to the other about their self-imposed guilt. Instead, they drift farther apart, Madeline to marriage and incipient motherhood, Caroline unconsciously following her father's example, a hard-drinking bartender in New Orleans. The story is told through Caroline's perspective; as the oldest daughter, Caroline sees herself as the family caretaker, although the task has proven more and more difficult over the years.
As a result of his lifelong drinking, Mr. Winters dies and Isabel is increasingly obsessed with her annual Christmas festivities with her two remaining daughters. She is also building a huge file, a collection of photographs of possible "Ellie sightings." But when the Isabel is killed in an accident on New Year's Eve, Caroline and Madeline are forced to confront their estrangement since Ellie's disappearance. Certain she is right this time and, because her mother wished it, Caroline follows one more lead, finally forced to acknowledge her desperate search for closure.
Beautifully written, the story builds precisely to its satisfying emotional climax, where the past must be put to rest in service of the future. Eyre's prose is compelling, her eccentric characters familiar and believable. Caroline and Madeline learn that time is irrevocable, but forgiveness is not. By helping each other, there is always a way home.