Gregory Maguire
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Buy *Lost* online


Gregory Maguire
384 pages
September 2002
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Gregory Maguire is best known in adult fiction circles for Wicked, his delightfully bittersweet story of the timeless The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch of the West's point of view. His follow-up to that was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, a re-imagining of the Cinderella fairy tale set in 17th-century Holland, and a few degrees darker than the first. In Lost, he breaks away from the formula of those novels, at least to an extent, and moves into the present with a morose divorced writer whose trip abroad to research a novel is sidetracked by her stepcousin's mysterious disappearance, eerie goings-on in her ancestral family home in Hampstead, and her own painful past.

Winifred Rudge is an unlikely heroine, a children's book author whose main income derives from her bestselling adult astrology book The Dark Side of the Zodiac, written pseudonymously and with no belief in its veracity. But sales of her "cash cow" are drying up, and she's cooking up a novel about a woman named Wendy Pritzke who's on the trail of Jack the Ripper. She flies from her New England home to old England to -- at least she tells herself this -- research the story. But when she arrives at her stepcousin and friend John Comestor's flat in the house that belonged to her great-great grandfather, a man rumored to have been the basis for Charles Dicken's Ebenezer Scrooge, she finds John mysteriously absent, a head-shakingly funny pair of Catholic contractors trying to build a lease-forbidden stairway to the rooftop from his kitchen, and strange noises and apparitions emanating from the chimney behind the wall where they're working.

Winnie's half-hearted attempts at research soon take a backseat to the twin conundrums of John's unexplained absence and the weirdness behind the wall. She becomes acquainted, if not necessarily friendly, with John's neighbors -- a dotty old woman downstairs with a flat full of cats and Post-It notes everywhere to remind her not to forget her pills; an Indian woman with several young children and a husband who died far too young; and John's on-again, off-again girlfriend Allegra, who pulls in a surprisingly good living making plaster castings of children's hands. She's drawn mostly against her will to a supposed psychic who warns her about the person associated with an ancient shroud she finds nailed to John's chimney. And all the while, Wendy Pritzke's story is unfolding in her mind.

Lost takes longer to build up steam than Maguire's previous novels, and its narrative sometimes runs into dead-ends -- much like Winnie's research and inquiry into John's disappearance. The book's second half is worth the read, but one dares say the buildup is unnecessarily slow, and when a spirit possession becomes the story's main thrust it feels out of place. Maguire, thankfully, is skilled enough to tie the disparate threads, including her early crashing of a meeting for prospective international adoptive parents, into a somewhat disheveled bow at the end. Winnie is deliberately a hard person to know, which will likely put some readers off. But the revelation of the hard truths of her past make the occasional unevenness worth it, because this book is more about her than any of the other mysteries she's trying to solve. Maguire is walking into deeper shadow with each book he writes, it would seem. Some of the asides concerning menacing or haunted characters from an array of children's literature will soothe readers hungry for more of what they got in Wicked or Confessions, but those new to Maguire' fiction should start earlier in his body of work.

© 2003 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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