Cover image for Lost and wanted : a novel / Nell Freudenberger.
Title:
Lost and wanted : a novel / Nell Freudenberger.
ISBN:
9780385352680
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.

©2019
Physical Description:
315 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Borzoi Book."
Abstract:
"Helen Clapp's breakthrough work on five-dimensional spacetime landed her a tenured professorship at MIT; her popular books explain physics in plain terms. Helen disdains notions of the supernatural in favor of rational thought and proven ideas. So it's perhaps especially vexing for her when, on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday in June, she gets a phone call from a friend who has just died. That friend was Charlotte Boyce, Helen's roommate at Harvard. The two women had once confided in each other about everything--in college, the unwanted advances Charlie received from a star literature professor; after graduation, Helen's struggles as a young woman in science, Charlie's as a black screenwriter in Hollywood, their shared challenges as parents. But as the years passed, Charlie became more elusive, and her calls came less and less often. And now she's permanently, tragically gone. As Helen is drawn back into Charlie's orbit, and also into the web of feelings she once had for Neel Jonnal--a former college classmate now an acclaimed physicist on the verge of a Nobel Prize winning discovery--she is forced to question the laws of the universe that had always steadied her mind and heart.

Helen Clapp's breakthrough work on five-dimensional spacetime landed her a tenured professorship at MIT; her popular books explain physics in plain terms. Helen disdains notions of the supernatural in favor of rational thought and proven ideas. Then, on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday in June, she gets a phone call from Charlotte Boyce, a friend who has just died. As the years passed Charlie had become elusive, her calls less frequent. Helen is drawn back into Charlie's orbit, awakening feelings she once had for Neel Jonnal, an acclaimed physicist on the verge of a Nobel Prize winning discovery. -- adapted from jacket
Holds:
Copies:

Available:*

Copy
Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
1
Searching...
FRE Book Adult General Collection
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

New York Times Best Seller

"Freudenberger's brilliant and compassionate novel takes on the big questions of the universe and proves, again, that she is one of America's greatest writers." --Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less

An emotionally engaging, suspenseful new novel from the best-selling author, told in the voice of a renowned physicist: an exploration of female friendship, romantic love, and parenthood--bonds that show their power in surprising ways.

Helen Clapp's breakthrough work on five-dimensional spacetime landed her a tenured professorship at MIT; her popular books explain physics in plain terms. Helen disdains notions of the supernatural in favor of rational thought and proven ideas. So it's perhaps especially vexing for her when, on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday in June, she gets a phone call from a friend who has just died.

That friend was Charlotte Boyce, Helen's roommate at Harvard. The two women had once confided in each other about everything--in college, the unwanted advances Charlie received from a star literature professor; after graduation, Helen's struggles as a young woman in science, Charlie's as a black screenwriter in Hollywood, their shared challenges as parents. But as the years passed, Charlie became more elusive, and her calls came less and less often. And now she's permanently, tragically gone.

As Helen is drawn back into Charlie's orbit, and also into the web of feelings she once had for Neel Jonnal--a former college classmate now an acclaimed physicist on the verge of a Nobel Prize-winning discovery--she is forced to question the laws of the universe that had always steadied her mind and heart.

Suspenseful, perceptive, deeply affecting, Lost and Wanted is a story of friends and lovers, lost and found, at the most defining moments of their lives.


Author Notes

Nell Freudenberger is the author of the novels The Newlyweds and The Dissident, and of the story collection Lucky Girls, which won the PEN/Malamud Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Named one of The New Yorker 's "20 under 40" in 2010, she is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and a Cullman Fellowship from the New York Public Library. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Freudenberger (The Newlyweds) explores the convergence of scientific rationality and spirituality in this stunning portrayal of grief. Helen is an MIT physics professor of some renown-known as much for her accessible science writing as for the theoretical model that bears her name. A single mother by choice, Helen, now in her mid-40s, is shaken to learn of the death of her best friend, Charlie Boyce, a successful screenwriter whom she met when they were undergraduates at Harvard. As Helen grapples with her own regrets about having fallen out of touch with Charlie, she and her seven-year-old son, Jack, become increasingly close with Charlie's husband and five-year-old daughter, Simmi. The children are desperate for a supernatural connection to the deceased; Helen is skeptical-except for the fact that she continues receiving eerily knowing text messages from Charlie's cell phone. Like her narrator, Freudenberger resists the impulse to use science solely as metaphor; indeed, readers will learn a great deal about the LIGO project and its Nobel Prize-winning work with cosmic gravitational waves. The integration of ideas from physics sparks in the reader new ways of thinking about the nature of time and existence as well as, on a less cosmic scale, about human relationships. Helen's journey through grief and understanding illustrates how one person can represent many things to different people at different times, and her story is about grief not only at the loss of her friend but also at the demise of countless possible futures. This is a beautiful and moving novel. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

in the 19TH century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge attended public chemistry lectures to expand his "stock of metaphors." Science, he wrote, "being necessarily performed with the passion of Hope, it was poetical." In yoking poetry to cutting-edge science, Coleridge was hardly unique: In the 17th century, Milton used Galileo's telescope as a metaphor in "Paradise Lost"; Donne incorporated both the Copernican and the Ptolemaic systems into his verse; Margaret Cavendish wrote about space travel and atoms. Such images, borrowed from science, send us through the looking glass. They cause the universe to expand and contract; they force us to know ourselves in new and startling contexts. In "Lost and Wanted," her third novel, about a quantum physicist whose best friend from college has recently died, Nell Freudenberger joins this august tradition, expanding her stock of metaphors with the language of quantum physics. The effect is beautiful. Freudenberger navigates complicated concepts from physics with admirable clarity, and those concepts - entanglement, uncertainty, gravitational waves - help us feel in new ways the ongoing influence of dormant friendships, the difficulties involved with believing in attachments that can't be observed, the enduring pull of discarded hopes. In Freudenberger's hands, long scientific digressions - about the search for the Higgs boson, the existence of dark matter, the collisions of black holes - never feel unnecessary. For one thing, they're described in splendidly accessible language. For another, our narrator, Helen, is a professor of physics, and this is how she understands the world. She numbers her chapters, makes lists of what she and her sister don't talk about, organizes her thoughts in bullet points. She observes her own grief at the loss of her best friend, Charlie, and records its dimensions precisely. She does not allow herself the indulgence of any outlandish sorrow, and so it is often during those scientific digressions that we feel her loss most acutely. As when, for instance, she describes Einstein's resistance to the concept of "spooky action at a distance": "It's a real phenomenon, though, one that has less to do with communication than with a shared history that causes a pair of particles, even once they've been permanently separated, to behave as if they knew what each other was thinking." Or when she meditates on the death of the physicist Schwarzschild, who wrote with such wonder to Einstein, mathematically proving his theory of relativity while serving on the German side of World War I: "There is a crater named for him on the northern part of the far side of the moon." This is a character with her own particular way of experiencing loss, and her language - her scientific metaphors, her crisp diction, the curtness of her sentences - allows us to feel that. After Charlie's death, Helen begins to receive mysterious text messages and emails from her, and so, in addition to being a novel about science, "Lost and Wanted" is also a ghost story. In merging the two, Freudenberger joins another august tradition: that of fiction about science and ghosts, from Penelope Fitzgerald's "The Gate of Angels" to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's "Properties of Light" and Andrea Barrett's short story "The Marburg Sisters." All these works - Freudenberger's included - use ghost stories to intensify the mysteries involved in the scientific pursuit, just as they use science to reinforce the very real fact that we are at all times affected by invisible forces we can't observe and haven't yet understood. In "Lost and Wanted," the haunting occurs via the text messages and emails from Charlie's phone, stolen just after her death. At times, Helen allows herself to believe that these communications are actually from Charlie. But, for the most part, it's pretty clear that the mystery isn't whether Charlie is operating her phone from another dimension, but who stole Charlie's phone, and why this person has chosen to contact Helen. So much of the power of ghost stories - from "Get Out" to "The Ttirn of the Screw" - derives from the uncertainty they invoke in readers (or viewers), that state of suspended logic in which it is unclear whether the protagonist is losing his or her mind as a result of grief or fear or anger, or whether supernatural forces are indeed at work in the world. They're powerful because of the uncertainties they force us to live with, the insanity they cause us to approach. In "Lost and Wanted," however, logic always prevails, at least when it comes to the messages from Charlie's phone. For that reason, they never add up to a particularly powerful haunting. The more affecting haunting is the way in which, after her death, Charlie occupies Helen's mind and changes the reality she occupies. As though steered by Charlie's hand, Helen reflects on the phases of their friendship: those years in college when she and Charlie were roommates; the years after Charlie moved to Los Angeles, when their friendship became strained; recent years, when Charlie was sick and they hardly spoke; and the present moment, now that Charlie is gone. Reviewing the history of their relationship, Helen discovers how little she really knew about her friend. She recalls an episode in which Charlie was grotesquely harassed by her thesis adviser, and realizes that she and her friend had hardly discussed the incident. She recalls that they avoided the subject of race, and is reminded by an acquaintance that she, a white woman, could never have understood the pressures that Charlie, a woman of color, was forced to endure, both in college and as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Helen sees that she didn't understand Charlie's marriage, her illness or her relationship with her parents. As a result, Helen loses her best friend over and over again: not only to death, but to all these points of missed intersection, these moments when the two passed each other by without the necessary collision. After Charlie's death, Helen has to process simultaneously the loss of her best friend and the fact that she never knew her as well as she should have. "Lost and Wanted" is a novel of female friendship without the furious intimacy of, say, Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels. It's a novel about female friendship begun in America in the 1990s, when women didn'ttalk about sexual harassment and friends didn't talk about race. When women (and especially women of color) were trying to build careers for themselves and no one was acknowledging how much harder it would be for them than it would be for white men in their position, and trying to do so while having children, either with partners or on their own, and trying to balance all of that striving without ever giving anyone reason to believe that they were more emotional or less stable than any of their peers. If this, then, is a somewhat remote female friendship, no wonder: Under such strain, the book seems to say, it's incredible that women sustain any friendships at all. And yet, in this startling novel, even that distance between Charlie and Helen is moving. The space that opens between them reverberates with what might have been, if Charlie's thesis adviser hadn't been such a measly and repugnant preda- tor, if Charlie hadn't moved to Los Angeles, if Helen weren't raising a child alone, if they'd both had more time, if Helen had understood Charlie's illness, if she'd asked her all the questions she didn't. In this novel, which teems with lives, the versions of their friendship in which those errors didn't occur seem to exist alongside the versions that did, and these alongside relationships with various partners, children, siblings, parents and colleagues. Reading it, I was moved by intimacies near and far, real and imagined, lost and found in all the echoing corners of the expanding universe. LOUISA halls most recent novel is "Trinity."


Library Journal Review

In this third novel (after The Dissident and The Newlyweds), Freudenberger deploys the obscurities of science to untangle a series of interpersonal relationships as intricate as any quadratic equation. Narrator Helen, a theoretical physicist who graduated from Harvard and is now an MIT professor of repute, must ponder her place among those in her orbit when she begins, inexplicably, receiving text and email messages from her recently deceased best friend's telephone. The title suggests the loss of something earnestly desired, though what that need is initially seems unknown even to Helen. But in the end, through the apt analogy of gravity and with her own soul searching, she comes to an ultimate moment of "finding." This work is rich in the vivid detail characteristic of Freudenberger, and the narrator's lofty clarifications of physical concepts, such as gravitational waves and the efforts of Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory scientists to detect them, are balanced by hints of the mundane world Helen inhabits, such as a desk strewn with the detritus of everyday life, including a note reminding her to buy toothpaste. VERDICT Recommended for anyone drawn to contemporary literary and character-driven fiction.-Michael Russo, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Excerpted from Lost and Wanted : 1.   In the first few months after Charlie died, I began hearing from her much more frequently. This was even more surprising than it might have been, since Charlie wasn't a good correspondent even when she was alive. I should say right away that I don't believe in ghosts--although I've learned that forty-five percent of Americans do--at least not in the sense of the glaucous beings who appear on staircases, in aban­doned farmyards, or on the film or digital records of events that absolutely did not include, say, a brown dog in the lower left-hand corner, or a man standing behind the altar in a black hood. Charlie died in Los Angeles, on a Tuesday night in June. I was in Boston and I didn't know; we hadn't spoken for over a year. People talk about a cold wind, or a pain in the chest, but I didn't feel anything like that. On Wednesday at about noon, my phone rang. Or rather, I happened to be looking through my bag for my wal­let, and I saw that the screen was illuminated: "Charlie." I grabbed the phone and answered before I could think any of the obvious things, such as why pick up right away or it's been more than a year or what are you to her anymore? "Charlie?" I heard a shuffling, something lightweight falling to the floor. Empty boxes, maybe. I said her name again, and then I lost the call. I called her back, but no one picked up. I felt foolish and unaccountably disap­pointed. I vowed that if she tried again, I wouldn't pick up. I would wait a few days before deciding whether I even wanted to call her back.   2. I became Frederick B. Blumhagen Professor of Theoretical Physics at MIT in 2004, just after I turned thirty-three. This was the year after Neel Jonnal and I published our AdS/CFT model for quark gluon plasma as a dual black hole in curved five-dimensional space­time. I was subsequently invited to every physics conference and festival from Aspen to Tokyo to Switzerland, and accepted as many as I could get away with, at least of those that didn't ask me to speak on the subject of Women in Science. Five years after Neel and I gave birth to our eponymous model, the Clapp-Jonnal, I gave birth to Jack. I'm what is called a single mother "by choice," which means that I decided to give up on the fantasy that a man with the intelligence and ambition required to interest me in the long term would arrive at the perfect reproduc­tive moment, and be willing to give up a certain measure of profes­sional success to contribute to the manual labor involved in raising a child. (Charlie's solution--finding a man who seemed to have no ambition other than to be with her and raise the child--struck me as workable, if you could be attracted to a person like that.) Before Jack was born, I published two books for a general audi­ence on topics related to my research: the first a collection of essays on quantum cosmology, and the second, more successfully, on black holes. Both books were published internationally, and Into the Singularity even spent a brief moment on several best-seller lists. It sometimes amuses me that the people who seem to envy the small amount of name recognition I've accrued--because I have the ability and the inclination to put what we do into words the nonscientist can understand--are the same people who dismiss that work for its lack of seriousness. I would much rather talk to laypeople who read the books and get excited about primordial black holes or the potential of the Large Hadron Collider than to Vincenzo Goia down the hall, and so I tended to do a fair amount of speaking about the books, at least before Jack was born. I am, as people are always noting, extremely busy. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I didn't need Charlie. I didn't need her, but when I got a call the next morning from an L.A. landline, all my resolutions melted away and I picked it up immediately. I believed it was my old friend finally calling me back. "Helen?" It was Charlie's husband, Terrence. "Oh--hi! Charlie called yesterday, but it was a really bad con­nection, and I tried her back, but--" "Charlie's dead." I'm ashamed to say that I laughed. I'm told that this isn't an uncommon reaction. "What?" "It happened late Tuesday night." Tuesday, I thought, Tuesday, and was relieved to discover that it was impossible. This was Thursday, and Charlie had called me yesterday. "We knew it was coming. But this was how she wanted it--no drama." The idea that Charlie would want to do anything--least of all dying--without drama was ludicrous, as was this sudden phone call in the middle of the morning. It was eleven o'clock and I was in my office, peer reviewing an article for Physical Review Letters on ultrahigh-energy debris from collisional Penrose processes. I thought of how Charlie used to laugh at the titles of my papers. I always said it was just a matter of getting past the unfamiliar lan­guage. If she could read Shakespeare, she could read physics. This particular paper suggested that subatomic particles orbiting near a spinning black hole might collide more forcefully than previ­ous calculations showed, possibly even powering ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays. "What do you mean?" I knew Charlie was ill. Charlie had lupus. They had diagnosed it eight years ago, just after her daughter was born, when her sup­pressed immune system allowed the previously dormant disease to flare. But even before that, for as long as I'd known her, Charlie had believed something was wrong with her. The diagnosis, when she described it, wasn't a tragedy. It was a relief to know what it was, and to be able to get treated. She'd been waiting her whole life to find out. There was no question of dying. "I got a call from her phone yesterday," I told him. There was a pause. "What time?" Terrence asked, and for a moment I thought there was a note of hope in his voice. As if it might be possible for me to convince him. "At about noon." "Because her phone is missing," Terrence said. "There've been a lot of people in and out--the health care aides especially. The coro­ner and the men from the funeral parlor. And then a few different sitters for Simmi, and our housekeeper--but she's absolutely trust­worthy." Terrence sounded fierce, as if I had accused the house­keeper. He took a breath and continued. "We sleep--we've been sleeping--together, and Simmi fell asleep next to her mother on Tuesday as usual. I moved her to her own room, and I think she knew when she woke up. I was sitting there, and she didn't cry when I told her. We had breakfast. She didn't ask about the body. It was only when I started looking for the phone, and couldn't find it, that she went crazy." "Terrence," I said. "I can't--" "Yeah." I was the maid of honor in their wedding ten years ago, on the beach in Malibu. I thought then that Charlie's parents, an art dealer and a psychiatrist who still lived in the Georgian house in Brookline, where Charlie grew up, felt the same way I did about Terrence. Still, they didn't show that they were disappointed to find their daughter marrying a surfer whose brother had served a three-year sentence for possession with intent to distribute, whose mother smoked menthols behind the catering truck before and after the ceremony, whose father was nowhere to be seen. The couple was blindingly attractive. Terrence had his Irish mother's green eyes and his black father's hair, twisted into short, beach-friendly locks. Charlie had her mother's incomparable bone structure. There was a lot of talk about how beautiful the children would be. There was no talk about Charlie's disease, because at that time no one knew she had it. "I didn't cancel her phone service until this morning," Terrence said. "We wanted to trace the phone, but she never set that up. She said she'd do it. It takes, like, three minutes." Terrence hesitated, and other noise took over. In my office there was the whir of dry heat being forced through the empty ducts. On Terrence's end, the hysterical rise and fall of children's television. "There's something I need--from her email. They make it almost impossible to get into email on the computer, if you don't know the password. But the passcode on the phone is 1234. I once showed her an article about how it's everyone's first guess--but she never changed it. Maybe she figured she didn't need to email it to me, since I could always get in on the phone." I was having trouble following Terrence, but I didn't want to ask him to repeat himself. What was it he needed? At first I thought of a will, but the only copy of a will wouldn't be locked in a deceased person's email account. "I might have to hire an actual lawyer." "That's crazy." "Yeah, so . . . whoever has the phone--they must've pocket dialed you." "That makes sense." I said this to be kind to Terrence. I didn't believe it. What were the odds of being called accidentally by a thief who stole a phone, even if the passcode were easy to guess? You didn't keep a stolen phone and start using it. You wiped it clean and sold it right away. Terrence coughed. "Charlie wanted me to--reach out to you. She didn't want me to get into the medical details with everyone, but since you understand this stuff--it was the encephalitis that did it. She was doing chemo." "Charlie was?" "Chemo's not just for cancer." "I know that." "Yeah, so, we stopped that three weeks before--we decided to stop it, because it wasn't helping. She was worried about her hair." "She would have looked fine without hair." "She didn't lose any." "That probably made her happy." "I think it was her chief concern." Terrence let out a sound between a sigh and a choke, and I was sorry I'd ever thought badly of him. "Terrence, I don't--is there anything I can do? I know it must be . . . with Simmi and everything." I hadn't seen Simmi since she was a baby, but I thought that if she were anything like her mother, she would survive. In fact, that was the piece of it that made the least sense, because the central fact about Charlie was her resilience. It wasn't so much that Charlie couldn't die, but that the Charlie who was dead couldn't be Charlie anymore. "She's lucky to have you, though." I didn't mean to relate it to me and Jack, or to suggest that just because Simmi had two par­ents, it was okay that she had lost one of them. But I'm still afraid Terrence might have taken it that way. "Me?" He sounded incredulous. "I'm no substitute." "No, of course, but--" "She's just waiting for her mother to come back. Now I think that's why she didn't ask about the body. If she saw a body--" There was a pause in which I heard the television again. It was so loud. Had he put it on to distract his daughter while he called their friends? Or had she turned it up herself, to drown him out? "There's going to be a memorial in Boston next month," he said. "Her parents will let you know." I asked if there were anything I could do to help, and Terrence politely declined--naturally, he was eager to get off the phone. "People are posting on her wall," he said. "Okay." "You can memorialize her fucking Facebook. But you can't get what you actually need." "I'm so sorry." "Yeah," he said. "Thanks." And hung up. I went to the missed calls from yesterday: one incoming, fol­lowed by two outgoing in quick succession. I touched the number and the screen obligingly responded: "Calling: Charlie . . ." But it was as Terrence had said. The mobile customer I was try­ing to reach was no longer at this number. Excerpted from Lost and Wanted: A Novel by Nell Freudenberger All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.