How To Be Lost: A Novel by Amanda Eyre WardHow To Be Lost: A Novel by Amanda Eyre Ward

How To Be Lost: A Novel

byAmanda Eyre Ward

Paperback | August 30, 2005

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about

Joseph and Isabelle Winters seem to have it all: a grand home in Holt, New York, a trio of radiant daughters, and a sense that they are safe in their affluent corner of America. But when five-year-old Ellie disappears, the fault lines within the family are exposed: Joseph, once a successful businessman, succumbs to his demons; Isabelle retreats into memories of her debutante days in Savannah; and Ellie’s bereft sisters grow apart–Madeline reluctantly stays home, while Caroline runs away.

Fifteen years later, Caroline, now a New Orleans cocktail waitress, sees a photograph of a woman in a magazine. Convinced that it is Ellie all grown up, Caroline embarks on a search for her missing sister. Armed with copies of the photo, an amateur detective guide, and a cooler of Dixie beer, Caroline travels through the New Mexico desert, the mountains of Colorado, and the smoky underworld of Montana, determined to salvage her broken family.
Amanda Eyre Ward is the critically acclaimed author of seven novels, including The Nearness of You, How to Be Lost, Close Your Eyes, and The Same Sky. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.
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Title:How To Be Lost: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:320 pages, 7.9 × 5.1 × 0.8 inShipping dimensions:7.9 × 5.1 × 0.8 inPublished:August 30, 2005Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345483170

ISBN - 13:9780345483171

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from good read I enjoyed the book, but I could put it down. I think that it just slowed down and never regained any momentum.
Date published: 2015-05-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a wonderful book about family ties and moving on... My copy of Amanda Eyre Ward’s novel How To Be Lost came with an unusual guarantee: the publisher promised to refund your money if you didn’t like How To Be Lost as much as The Lovely Bones . I suppose at the time of its publication, comparison to the juggernaut that was The Lovely Bones would seem like high praise indeed. But I won’t be writing to collect my refund, thanks very much. I loved How To Be Lost and, in fact, I think I liked it even more than The Lovely Bones which, in my opinion, started off with a bang and ended with a whimper. Ward’s novel concerns the Winters family, specifically the Winters daughters: Caroline, Madeline and Ellie. We meet the eldest, Caroline, first. She’s a hard-drinking cocktail waitress in New Orleans trying to figure out how she’s going to tell her mother, Isabelle, that she’s not coming home for Christmas. Home isn’t a happy place for Caroline. Home brings back horrible memories of her alcoholic father, her miserable mother and the disappearance of her youngest sister, Ellie. Still, duty calls. It’s on this visit home that Caroline’s mother shows her a picture in a People magazine. As soon as Caroline sees it, she knows. It’s her baby sister. How To Be Lost really is a story about people trying to find their way in both extraordinary circumstances (a potential love interest for Caroline has lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks and he is trying to move on with his life) and mundane circumstances (the novel is peopled with characters who spend their lives hunched over beer or whiskey in a variety of scummy bars). Some people don’t like first person narrative, but I do, especially if the narrator is honest. Caroline is self-destructive and selfish and afraid. Her journey to find the woman in the picture is ill-advised and necessary because by making the journey she is making her first real attempt to leave the past behind. One of the things I hated most about The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s decision to flash forward into the future. That rarely works for me. Ward doesn’t do this. Her ending, if anything, is a dangling thread. Her ending, for me, was perfect. This is a gem of a book.
Date published: 2009-03-22

Read from the Book

One The afternoon before, I planned how I would tell her. I would begin with my age and maturity, allude to a new lover, and finish with a bouquet of promises: grandchildren, handwritten letters, boxes from Tiffany sent in time to beat the rush. I sat in my apartment drinking Scotch and planning the words. “Mom,” I said to Georgette, the cat. “Mom, I have something important to discuss.” Georgette stretched lazily on the balcony. Below, an ambulance wailed. A man with a shopping cart stood underneath my apartment building, eating chicken wings and whistling. The heat had dimmed, but the smell of New Orleans seemed to grow stronger: old meat, sweat, and beer. “Mom,” I told the cat, “please listen to what I am telling you.” Although Georgette continued to ignore me, the man with the shopping cart looked up, and I took this as a good sign. I had to work that night, so after the Scotch and a small nap, I stood in front of the mirror and put on mascara. I was going for sultry European, so I took my hair in my fingers and twisted it, securing the roll with bobby pins. Was this a chignon? How did one pronounce chignon? In any case, my hair was out of my face, and this would please the health department. I washed my hands with the rose-scented soap my sister had sent me, and slipped my feet into heels. As a final gesture, I drew a mole next to the left corner of my mouth. We had been told, at The Highball, to “glamorize our images.” This is a direct quote. Jimbo, the club’s elderly owner, had begun soliciting buyers for his “little piece of New Orleans history.” The Highball was the cocktail lounge at the top of the World Trade Center in New Orleans. It revolved. If you sat drinking expensive themed cocktails for a full hour, you would see the whole city, from the lazy Mississippi River to the dilapidated downtown, to the French Quarter, and back again to the mighty Miss, Old Man River. Jimbo had implored us, in his memo, to glamorize. I believe he thought that despite the old plush décor, despite our advancing ages (I was thirty-two, in a town where many cocktail waitresses were underage runaways) and annoyed demeanors, if we tarted up, he could convince some Yankee that The Highball was an exclusive club, and not a tourist trap that revolved. So, why not? My old look (irritable and overtired) hadn’t gotten me many dates. Along with Winnie, I went to Payless Shoes and bought a few pairs of high heels. We bought fishnet stockings and perfume. And then we went to Bobby’s Bar and drank beer from giant cans until we ran out of quarters for the jukebox. I drove slowly to The Highball. With my car windows closed and my air-conditioning on, the night was lovely. People sat on their front steps drinking from paper bags and watching kids play soccer. I was one of the few white people in my neighborhood, and one of the many heavy drinkers. I waved to Lady B, my landlord, who was sitting on her porch swing and braiding her daughter Lela’s hair. Lady B winked in response. Although I didn’t have to, I drove up Canal Street, past Harrah’s. Three frat boys, their necks strung with beads, sat on the sidewalk outside the casino. Their eyes were glazed, and they were not drinking from their giant daiquiris. They were simply staring at the street, defeated. These were the sorts of people who eventually roused themselves to ride the elevator to The Highball. More than one of my customers had fallen asleep in their velvet chair. Things were slow up at The H-ball. Winnie was leaning on the bar, her tight dress leaving no inch to the imagination. Behind the bar, Peggy the yoga queen mixed a martini like Tom Cruise, shaking her hips this way and that. A few customers gazed out the window. One couple was making out madly. The good thing about a revolving bar is that odious customers are soon out of sight. “Look at you!” said Winnie, pointing red fingernails and laughing throatily. “What?” I said. “It’s a chignon.” Winnie and Peggy looked at each other. Sometimes, I surprised them. It was a long night, and everybody wanted bourbon. When my shift was over, even I wanted bourbon, instead of my usual Scotch. Peggy poured me a stiff one. “I am dreading tomorrow,” I told her. “Why?” “I have to tell my mother I’m not coming home for Christmas. She’s going to flip.” Peggy sat down on her stool. She had removed every bit of her eyebrows, and drawn thin lines. “Why not?” she said. “What?” “Why aren’t you going home?” said Peggy. She poured herself a glass of bourbon. “Oh, it’s a long story,” I said. “For one thing, I’m an adult, you know? I can’t go flying home to New York for every holiday like I’m in college or something.” “I never went to college,” Peggy said, dreamily. “And my family…well, it’s a bit fucked up, is the thing,” I said. “I wonder,” said Peggy. “What?” Peggy sipped her drink, and looked through the enormous windows at the sparkling city below. “I wonder who I would be,” she said, “if I had gone to college.” “I went to college,” I said, “and I’m still here.” Peggy nodded. “But you’re you,” she said. On the drive home, I fantasized about my Christmas alone. I would buy a little tree for my apartment and decorate it with lights. I could spend the day at the movies, or at the Napoleon House, eating a muffaleta sandwich and then slowly drinking my way through a bottle of house red. Winnie had already invited me over for turkey, and I could watch all the kids at her house open presents. Or I could work on Christmas, and make a bundle. Jimbo paid double on holidays. I wouldn’t have to hear it from my sister Madeline and her investment banker husband, Ron. And the Christmas party. My mother insisted on keeping up the Christmas party tradition, making us don taffeta dresses, hiring the bartender from the Liquor Barn. She made the same meatballs, a little too sweet, and the cheese ball. The cheese ball! There must have been a time when an enormous mass of orange and pink cheese covered with nuts and parsley was fashionable, and my mother has not moved past that time. My mother, who was a model in the sixties, who loved fondue, who made cheese balls and laughed so brightly it made me want to cry. Last year, I wore the costume and deflected questions about my career. (“Just tell them you’re still playing,” my mother had said, “I beg of you.”) I drank too much wine, listened to my brother-in-law’s investment advice, and did not argue with Madeline. I went to sleep before making a scene, but in the middle of the night, I woke up. The guests were gone, and the condo was silent. Next to me, my sister breathed slowly. Strands of hair clung to her flushed cheeks, and she smelled of face cream. I looked at her, the curve of her nose, her thin lips. Her eyelashes, clean of mascara, were pale, and her skin was lightly freckled. In many ways, she was a stranger to me now: an Upper East Side wife, nervous and easily wounded. And yet, in the glow of the streetlamp outside the bedroom, she was the same girl who had once told me You and me are our family, her eyes searching mine for a promise. I touched her cheek with my fingers, and she stirred, furrowed her brow, but did not wake. Our room was on the third floor of my mother’s condo, and I went downstairs, past my mother’s bedroom and the den, where Ron slept on the pullout couch. (For the first year of their marriage, Madeline had slept with him on the uncomfortable couch at Christmastime, but now she came upstairs to sleep next to me.) I had hoped to find some leftover meatballs, or to make a ham sandwich with the Harrington’s maple ham and the little slices of rye bread. I made my way to the kitchen, but as I stepped carefully to avoid waking Ron, I heard something. I turned toward the sound, and closed my eyes. It was muffled, a sort of breathing. For a moment, I felt a wave of fear, thinking it was a prowler, a robber, murderer, or rapist, but then I remembered I was in suburban New York, and not New Orleans, and my mother’s condo complex had a guardhouse. I was wearing wool socks and my Christmas nightgown. My eyes adjusted to the light. In the kitchen, by the sliding glass door that led to the third-story deck, I saw a figure: my mother. “Mom?” I said. She looked up, and I could see she was crying. “Mom? What is it?” “Nothing,” she said. She blinked quickly and ran the sleeve of her bathrobe across her eyes. By the time I reached her—a few seconds—she was composed. “I was just thinking about Christmas,” she said, a false edge of cheer lining her voice. She clutched the picture in her hands. The blurry one, taken on a fall morning a lifetime ago when we had covered Ellie in leaves. “Oh, Mom,” I said. “No,” she said. “I won’t….” “Caroline,” said my mother, her voice grave, “we are talking about Christmas, and only Christmas.” “Mom, it’s OK to miss her.” “I hope I get a cashmere sweater,” said my mother. “Mom, we have to talk about this,” I said. “She’s gone. It’s not your fault.” “And maybe some of those cute fur mittens.” From my mother’s lap, where she remained trapped in a black-and-white picture, my lost sister looked out at us, laughing.

Bookclub Guide

1. What is the significance of the title? Who in the book is lost?2. What is the distinction between being lost and being missing?3. What is Caroline searching for?4. How does Ellie’s disappearance affect the relationship between Madeline and Caroline?5. How is setting important in How to Be Lost? Where does Caroline feel most comfortable, and why?6. What role does alcohol play in the novel? How does it initiate, complicate, or smooth out circumstances?7. In what way do Winnie and Peggy function as surrogate sisters for Caroline?8. There are a number of mothers in How to Be Lost: Isabelle, Sarah, Winnie, Madeline, and Mrs. Lake. Discuss these different images of motherhood. Are any of these mothers revered? Criticized? What role do these women play in protecting their children and offering them a sense of the world?9. Bernard tells Agnes that “There’s always another chance to take what you deserve.” Do you think that Bernard’s belief is always possible? Do any other characters in the novel seem to hold a similar view?10. Roxie utters only a few words in the novel, but she leaves a strong impression on Caroline. What role does Roxie play in Caroline’s journey? What sort of revelations do Roxie and Olivia provide for Caroline?11. Compare and contrast Charlene with Agnes. Both are lost to their families but there is a distinct difference—the element of choice. Discuss these two women and how the element of choice affects their separate lives.12. At the beginning of the novel, Caroline attempts to avoid going home to her mother’s condo in New York for the holiday, but by the book’s end, she feels at home there. What brings about this change? How is home defined for her in the end?13. Ward uses multiple perspectives—Caroline’s first-person account, Agnes’s letters, and a third-person, omniscient narrator—to tell this story. How did this structure affect the story and your understanding of it? What is the role of the reader in the unraveling of the mystery of the Winters family?14. If you have read Ward’s previous novel, Sleep Toward Heaven, do you see any common themes or elements in How to Be Lost ?

Editorial Reviews

“One of those sink-your-teeth-into-it novels that remind you why you love to read.”–The Charlotte Observer“Invites comparison to The Lovely Bones . . . Ward’s depiction of family, with its attendant love and guilt, will keep you turning pages.”–People“A compelling page-turner [that] unfolds as part suspense novel, part memoir . . . [How to Be Lost] chronicles Caroline’s tale with vivid eloquence, clarity, and dark, nuanced humor.”–The Boston Globe“The narrative is so engrossing, so propelling, you’re surprised to come upon the last page.”–Time Out New York“Affecting . . . sustains suspense to the very end and brings a tear to the eye.”–The Denver Post