How do you get old without letting sadness become everything?
I saw Brooke Davis speak about her breakthrough novel Lost & Found late last year so I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to read and review it. When she spoke at Victoria Park Library she told the story of her mum’s death. I had a thousand “me too” moments listening to her articulate the disbelief, the loss, the weirdness of having a parent suddenly absent from the world. Even the conversation Davis had over the phone with her dad: “Now you’re going to get some very bad news here…” echoed the one with my mum, as we sat on my bed early one morning, “I have to tell you the worst thing you’ve ever heard…”. Somehow the build up was worse than the news, though it truly was the worst thing I had heard, my dad had died of a sudden heart attack. Looking back I feel for my mum, how she couldn’t find the words. How the reality couldn’t be spoken, but had to be. Without that conversation attached to it, I have to tell you the worst thing you’ve ever heard, dad’s death would have been even more unreal, unfathomable, than it was. Like the strange creatures living at the bottom of the ocean, something I knew to be a real thing, but not part of my world, not something that would ever reach out with a cold hand to touch me.
What if, when she walked through that door after seeing her husband dead, a child, their child, was sitting in the spare room, in their room, and Agatha had to sit down on the bed, their bed – her bed? Would it have been a her? She had sometimes allowed herself to imagine it would be. And she’d had to say – what? What would she have said? Your father is dead. How do you tell a child, your child, that this is how life works? That you live just to die? That as long as you’re alive, people you know, people you love, will die?
Given my immediate connection with Davis as a person, as a human who had experienced a similar loss, I’m surprised at my lack of connection with her novel. Perhaps I just read it too fast, it is a quick read. It is very prettily written, from the point of view of three delightfully named characters, Millie Bird, Agatha Pantha and Karl the Touch Typist. The three travel across WA to find Millie’s mother, who had left the seven year old in a department store. All three of them are grieving, each in their own way, in anger, in sadness and in confusion. Their grief is real, their struggle to break free from the memories and look towards an uncertain future without a loved one in it. How do you get old without being overcome by sadness? How does a person move forward without being drawn, over and over again, into the same story of loss, that gaping hole in your life that should be filled with someone you expected to always be there? How could it possibly be right to just dust yourself off and continue as though future history hadn’t been irreparably changed. Shouldn’t the world notice? Shouldn’t it see you, walking, smiling and talking through your pain, this charade you perform for the benefit of who knows who?
This story is a beautiful one; charming even. The humour keeps it accessible despite the heavy subject matter. I think something about the childhood tone was lost on me, though it will certainly appeal to others. In Millie’s sign I’M HERE MUM, that she sticks up everywhere she goes, I heard Davis cry to the universe. Here I am, mum, why aren’t you? It was moving, heartbreaking, but also hopeful. Because eventually, in community, in love, in trust, the future can be more certain. The world does find its feet and move on. And, in time, we do too.
Lost & Found, Brooke Davis: Four stars.
Read it to: grieve, to feel hopeful, to feel a sense of shared loss and shared happiness.