- The Loss of All Lost Things by Amina Gautier
Amina Gautier’s The Loss of All Lost Things begins with a story, which first appeared in Prairie Schooner, about a kidnapped boy who prefers to think of himself as lost rather than taken. For a boy stripped of his physical agency and reduced to being the object of his kidnapper’s desire, this semantic distinction seems impotent: What can language really offer this sexually abused child? From a material perspective, language has not helped him escape or resist physical violence. In the hell that has become his daily life—of being whisked from one unlocatable space to another—the boy is defeated and worn down. He takes comfort only in being “lost amongst all of the other lost things of which he is but one.” And when the boy yearns to be “placed into a bin beside all of the other lost things,” it is hard not to read this as a desire for redemption in death. This boy’s desire to make a life in what is lost is the sadness and the beauty that drives the fifteen stories in Gautier’s collection, and this question of being taken or being lost resounds throughout.
At the periphery of all these stories is what I can only describe as an abyss—all that her characters have lost or neglected or failed to bring into being. These bodies of loss are material (clothing, poems, people), but they are also imaginary (untold histories, impossible choices, and the anxiety of the Other). Gautier’s characters are driven to this abyss. Some of them, such as the kidnapped boy, want to locate themselves there, while others desire to make sense of it, to reach in and take from it, to redeem their life from what is lost within it.
The latter is the case in “As I Wander.” Judy is hosting her late husband’s wake when she begins to realize that she never really knew him: “[strangers’] memories, numerous and weighty, obliterate hers.” The immensity of all that she does not know of her husband brings her to tears, and as she faces a new life alone, Judy feels the anxiety of being unhinged and full of potentiality. She satiates her anxiety by taking an interest in the odd behavior of her neighbor, who always has young men visiting. When she invites one of his male prostitutes into her home, she is notably working to peel back the layers of surface-level life, but by doing so in a way that alienates her from the man she is with.
Similarly, in “Resident Lover,” a man named Ray goes to an artists’ residency [End Page 176] in order to understand why his ex-wife left him. He finds himself reflecting on her poetry—the sheer number of dead or displaced children in her work—and he can’t find a way to relate, and he even considers whether it was his indifference to her poetry that created a rift between them. At the residency, Ray sees a new opportunity to understand his ex-wife through interacting with the female painters (and one named Felicia, in particular) who are there with him, but he continues to struggle to connect.
In both stories, characters have a compulsion to approach all that narrative excludes; they desire to make sense of differences beyond their reach, and they do so by fixating on a stranger. Both Judy and Ray mistake their interactions with others as authentic when in actuality they both regard others as objects. Judy superimposes the prostitute over her dead husband in order to imagine a life before his sickness. Ray looks right through Felicia in order to imagine a situation to win back his ex-wife. The power of Gautier’s stories lies in empathizing with these characters while simultaneously being wary of the ways in which they satiate their grief.
In addition to staging a body of loss at the periphery of her narratives, Gautier homes in on childhood and particularly the ways in which children are so often objects...