Falling in love and losing a loved one are two of the most common human experiences. While the two seem diametrically opposed, the arc of our humanity reveals ways in which we can find solace and gravity in both events. Kathryn Schulz, Pulitzer Prize winner and editor of New Yorker magazine, ‘Lost & Found’, is a memoir that simply revolves around two landmark events in her life: her father’s death and her encounter with the love of his life 18 months ago.
Recalling the loss she felt after the death of her father, Schulz says, “I found myself keeping a list of all the other things that I had lost over time, because they came to me. in mind without being invited. . . . Any list like this – and we all have one – quickly reveals the strangeness of the loss category: how huge and awkward it is, how little its content has in common. I was surprised to realize, when I started to think about it, that some types of losses are actually positive.
Schulz’s spirit flows wonderfully over the page. Although this book is classified as a dissertation, it can also be read as a large set of essays. Schulz’s prose is lucid and intentional, yet unexpected and compassionate. She doesn’t rush to get her point across and that expansive pace is what makes this book such a pleasure. It is an agile and deeply human mind, able to move the different threads of its thought forward without losing the integrity of the fabric it creates. Although Schulz lovingly writes about his father (an immigrant to the United States, who before the age of 12 “had lived in a township and in a war zone, in the Middle East and Europe, in the burning forge who made Israel and the refreshing embers of the Third Reich ”), she does so as a way to explore the universal experience of loss rather than simply praising her father.
Schulz uses his life stories as a starting point for an omnivore’s exploration of science, space, history, art and writing to develop his points. Rather than dwelling on his personal life, weighing the reader down with the lyrical twists of certain memoirs, Schulz treads lightly on the drama of his days. She does not write for her own personal catharsis. Following Joan Didion’s death, I returned to her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking” and, although it remains a tremendous job for me, I found that they contrasted sharply with the anchored memories. by Schulz. The two lead radically different explorations of loss.
This is not to say that there is a cool or clinical withdrawal from “Lost & Found”. While this memoir is not a search for a cure or a chronicle of family secrets, there is a great weight to Schulz’s most personal moments. Knowing about her budding romance is a window to intense tenderness and deep gratitude. Although Tolstoy rejected the domestic joy that Schulz enjoys (“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”), Schulz avoids exposing his resentments and disappointments. This allows him to fully explore the interconnectedness of these basic concepts of loss, discovery, and the word that fuses so many lives together, “and”.
Schulz writes: “The feeling of ‘and’ is not just a feeling of conjunction; it is also a feeling of continuity. The abundance he signals – the feeling that there is always something more – is not only spatial but also temporal. Unraveling the deceptively simple conjunction allows the memoir to land on an imaginative and thoughtful note. Where other memoirs focus on facts and family history, Schulz finds a way to subvert the genre, taking it to philosophical levels while maintaining a deep-seated intimacy. Schulz always looks outward, capturing that hard-earned optimism through scrutiny and vulnerability rather than blind faith.
Schulz argues that the bridge created by “and” allows one to live in the most authentic way. It creates a space for humor and warmth during the tragedies in our lives while providing relief from times of ecstasy, a way to truly appreciate them. She considers: “Life, too, goes through opposites: it is by turns overwhelming and restorative, busy and boring, awful and absurd and comical and uplifting. We cannot walk away from this constant amalgamation of feelings, we cannot remove the seeming impurities in search of an imaginary essence, and we shouldn’t want to if we could. The world in all its complexity calls us to respond in the same way, so that being in conflict is not adulterated; it must be complete.
It would be impossible to ignore Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “An Art” in a book like this, and Schulz spends time with Bishop’s Echoes, but also relies on her “art of losing” through his own gracious words: “We are here to keep watching, not to keep. The generous way in which “Lost & Found” centers the loss over the feeling of being found is remarkable. For all those for whom the loss is very heavy, this book is a necessary gift.
Lauren LeBlanc is a writer and editor who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @lequincampe.
Lost and found objects: a memory
Random house, 256 pages, $ 27