In Lost and Found, author Carolyn Parkhurst conjures up a heady brew, a surreal treatise on the human condition, ingeniously skewering the world of reality television. The game is unique and fun: it's an adventure show where intelligence is counted as much as physical prowess, and where the clues are complex and multifaceted.
Parkhurst anchors her story with several dysfunctional couples as they journey from Egypt to Japan, from Sweden to England, and from Ireland on to the United States, carrying with them a parrot, a ski pole, some sequins, and all the assorted other treasures they have procured along the way.
The mother-daughter team of Laura and Cassie is this big bomb ticking away with secrets. Cassie was pregnant and had a baby without her mother's knowledge, and Laura is wracked with guilt at how she missed it all.
While the beautiful B-grade television star Juliet ponders seducing Cassie, the teenager traces her unhappiness back to a schoolgirl crush and it gives her a little thrill inside to think about the time when she had those feelings.
Abby and Justin met three years ago through Redemption, an ex-gay ministry. Full of shame and hatred at their sexual orientation, they think they
have left "the darkness of shame for the light of God's love." Barbara, the host, and Oliver, the producer, think they're both terrific fodder for an emotional blow-up.
Parkhurst steadily unveils each of these contestants' dysfunctions, disappointments and expectations. Will Carl and Laura develop a romantic attachment? Will Juliet come onto Cassie? Will Cassie and Laura make peace with each other? And will Abby and Justin overcome their guilt at being gay?
The real meat of the game lies in how well these people read their clues, keep track of their objects, weather the confusion of travel, navigate foreign cities, and work with their partner. The cameras are always turned on, and as each couple gets closer to taking home the million bucks, they steadily reveal their shame, sorrow, and regrets "as ugly as scars."
Justin reveals "his physical shell is nothing to him, with all of its tumult and want." Laura and Cassie's relationship is changed by their burdens. Abby is obligated to rethink her whole fraudulent life, particularly her marriage to Justin; and Juliet is forced to come to terms with her celebrity mortality.
Lost and Found has all the tawdry drama of a real reality series, with all of
the necessary petty grievances, festering grudges, and closeted attractions. Finally faced with his prejudices, Justin embarks on a course of action
that threatens to derail the entire show – ironically it provides the stuff of great television, and in the process makes the show a potentially huge ratings winner. After all, according to the host, Barbara, "
It is the cameras and money that are what the show is really about."