Lost by Cathy Ostlere

Lost begins on September 30, 1995 with a family gathered around the kitchen table, waiting for Cathy Ostlere’s brother David to call. He is an adventurer and can be any given place at any time, but he “never forgets” and has never failed to call on his birthday. That day the family waits for a call that never comes.

This is a memoir about blame, guilt, and identity as it is about the time in Cathy Ostlere’s life when David and his girlfriend Sarah disappear in a small boat on the Atlantic Ocean. Ostlere deftly navigates the past and the present, and we learn that she is inextricably tied to her brother through their shared anything goes adventurous spirit, which is affected when Ostlere settles down and begins to raise a family. David, having caught the travel bug from his older sister particularly tries to push the limits on what he can do, and is critical of her settling down with her family.

“You’re not the woman you used to be,” David says. His words descend like a curse. I am on my hands and knees wiping spilled apple juice.”

Ostlere barrels down a road doubt and what ifs about how she handles the disappearance of her brother, who because of the bond that they share, has sworn her to secrecy about their trip so as not to worry their parents, especially their mother. She is the one who goes to seek out the last places the David was seen alive, and keeps up grim exchanges with the coast guard and other marine agencies. After all she was the one that waited a month after the missed phone call before she says anything. She is the one who is wracked with the guilt of waiting too long to start the search, and having kept his secret in the first place. The book is filled with tension, haunting passages and beautiful imagery as she tell the story of her and David’s relationship- the past and stories of recklessness where everything turns out okay, juxtaposed to the now that has gone horribly wrong.

By the last third of the book, I start to get a little lost. Her sentences are beautiful, but I am becoming too caught up in the beauty and in a sense they can obscure some of the feeling and the emotion. I remember thinking that her style compatible with shorter stories, where it would be easier to sustain the poetic beauty and the emotion over a shorter span of time. (As it turns out she usually writes short non-fiction pieces). At the same time I wanted more about where her exploration and revelations left her. In exploring her relationship with David and his being lost she is also confronting things in herself and how she has become lost in her marriage and who she is a person. I wanted to know where here journey led her and what decisions she made. Nevertheless, there is much to recommend in this fascinating interior journey of a woman trying to confront so many of the issues that we wrestle with in our lives against the background of family tragedy.

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