A review of

How to Be Lost

by Amanda Eyre Ward

Central question: How are the acts of evading tragedy and pursuing truth connected?
Format: 290 pp., hardcover; Size: 8.28” x 5.58”; Price: $24.00; Publisher: MacAdam/Cage; Editor: Anita Streitfield; Book designer: Dorothy Carico-Smith; Typeface: Cremona; Working title of novel: LaGuardia; Advice from author’s mother about how to “spruce up” novel: “What if she didn’t die, but became a mermaid instead?” Representative sentence: “Uncle Wallace reached for his son; Daisy, named for the sweet southern belle of Fitzgerald’s dreams, reached the decision that she would drop out of school to follow Phish; Aunt Blanche reached for her cigarettes; my mother reached the end of her rope.”

I’m willing to bet Amanda Eyre Ward is a fan of fairy tales—the kind where children are snatched away by shadowy figures, quests embarked upon by unlikely heroes come to happy fruition, and families, in all their messy love and loathing, understand not only how to be lost, but how to be found. In this, Ward’s second novel, our heroine is a booze-soaked thirty-two-year-old cocktail waitress who works at the rotating bar at the top of the New Orleans World Trade Center and eats “hot dogs by choice.”

As children, Caroline and her two sisters, Madeline and Ellie, devise a plan to escape from their overbearing father and ineffectual mother (both ever-arguing alcoholics). The plan backfires when Caroline goes to pick up Ellie, the youngest, at school, and discovers she has disappeared. Years later, Caroline encounters a photograph in People magazine of a rodeo in Montana. Her mother is convinced that the blurred girl in the portrait is the now-adult Ellie. Caroline resolves to follow this “lead” to Montana, to settle once and for all the question of her sister’s disappearance.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Heather Birrell

Heather Birrell is the author of I know you are but what am I?, a collection of stories (Coach House Books, 2004). She is currently at work on a novel about a tire factory, a draft dodger, and a teenaged swim instructor. She lives in Toronto.

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