April 13: “Lost and Found” by Amina Gautier

Hello, Story366 readers! Today is Wednesday and it’s been a long day of teaching, meeting with students, fixing websites, and running a Cub Scout meeting. I’m also a bit scattered because Karen is leaving in the morning, going to visit her mom in Ohio until Sunday, and in the middle of her trip, I have to lead that same group of Cub Scouts on a five-mile hike. It’ll be an action-packed weekend, so make sure you stay tuned.

For today’s post—coming extraordinarily late in the day—I read from Amina Gautier’s new collection The Loss of All Lost Things, fresh out from Elixir Press. I just got this book in the mail today, but decided to feature it right away, as it’s a beautiful book and it was just there, on the desk, when I went to get a book. I’m not sure what I expected when I opened a book called The Loss of All Lost Things, but unless I’m mistaken, it seems to be about loss. Maybe I thought Gautier just meant things like car keys or reading glasses were lost. Nope. She meant things like people. It’s a beautiful book, but sad, oh so sad. So much for amusing anecdotes like the one I offered up yesterday in my Aaron Burch post.

I’m writing about the first story, “Lost and Found,” even though, at first, I didn’t think I would. It’s the first story in the book and is about a child abduction, from the mid-distant third-person POV of the kid. It’s a great but morbid piece, so I read on, eyeing the title story third in the lineup as my possible target. The second piece, “Wander,” is a good story, about an elderly widow hiring a gigolo, but then that third story, “The Loss of All Things Lost,” turned out to be in the same universe as “Lost and Found,” only told from the kid’s mom’s POV, how she and her husband deal with the same abduction, at the exact same time as “Lost and Found” takes place. I rethought my stance on “Lost and Found” and have decided it was the best choice.

To note, my initial aversion to “Lost and Found” is just a sentimental one. I’m positive that I’ve covered a child abduction story at some point this year, but for the life of me, scanning my books, I can’t figure out which one it is. In any case, little boys getting kidnapped freaks me out. Firstly, because I have two sons, and I can’t think of anything more terrifying as a parent than someone snatching one of them—reading Gautier’s story made me anxious, physically shaken. Secondly, I’m the same age as Adam Walsh, the kid who was abducted in Florida in the early eighties and then brutally murdered. I heard about what happened, saw the TV move where Daniel J. Travanti played Adam’s father, John Walsh (later of America’s Most Wanted fame), and spent the next several years terrified of being in public, particularly in stores, particularly in Sears, where young Adam was taken while his mom shopped for a lamp. I’ve written stories about fictional abductions a couple of time, either because I’m a sadist or because I need to work through it all, and here I am again, on the subject.

The things that really makes Gautier’s story so haunting, so original, and so good (as a story) is how hopeless she makes the situation, especially coming from the kid’s perspective. Immediately, we know how horrible the kid has it, as he’s either tied to a chair or being molested by the kidnapper, Thisman, pretty much the whole time, over the span of months. Gautier doesn’t pull any punches: This is what this story is, an older man stealing a kid from the bus stop and keeping him as his sex slave. Welcome to The Loss of All Things Lost.

Because Gautier establishes the most horrible of realities right away, there’s really nothing to build to, no surprise. Another type of story about abduction could be mysterious—I’m thinking of how coy Nabokov is in Lolita—withholding details, withholding the awful encounter, until later, letting the horror serve as the climax. Here, though, we start out on the climactic plateau. Instead of rising action, what we get is more of a conditioning procedural, the poor kid starting to believe Thisman’s brainwashing, believing his parents are better off without him, that already, they’re adjusting, moving on as a smaller family (which, of course, is later disavowed in the title story). The kid isn’t happy, but after so long, so much conditioning, Stockhold Syndrome sets in. Thisman is there with him, 24-7, he starts to reckon, while his parents dropped him off every morning at daycare, were barely ever home. That kind of reasoning may not be as horrifying as the raping and such on the first page, but how this poor kid starts to give up, become Thisman’s “son,” is a whole different kind of terrible.

Not every story in The Loss of All Things Lost is as awful as a seven-year-old little boy being consumed by pure evil, but there’s a lot of loss, a lot of sadness, followed by the losers finding ways to cope (like purchasing gigolos). Gautier is an extremely talented writer and knows how to handle characters, knows where to push them and when. It’s a sad book, but a great book (Gautier’s third), clearly worthy of all the praise it’s garnered of late.

Amina Gautier