Lost and Wanted: A novel (Hardcover)
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Can the dead communicate with us after they are gone or is there another explanation? With beautiful, crisp prose Nell Freudenberger poses these questions — pushing both the bounds of science and the power of love.— Kathleen
April 2019 Indie Next List
“Helen is a successful physicist and a single mother, but when her best friend, Charlie, dies, she must confront the limitations of love and science and learn how far each force can be stretched and where they might overlap. As in her previous novel, The Newlyweds, Freudenberger writes with understated authority about grief, motherhood, and coming to terms with the decisions you make throughout your life. Everyone in Helen’s orbit is touched by Charlie’s death, and their grief is as mysterious as the scientific questions Helen grapples with in her work. This is a powerfully beautiful novel.”
— Tyler Goodson, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
New York Times Best Seller
Named a Best Book of 2019 by Vogue and NPR's Maureen Corrigan
"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.
About the Author
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.
“Beautiful, startling, affecting . . . Freudenberger joins [an] august tradition of yoking poetry to cutting-edge science. This is a novel about female friendship begun in America in the 1990s, when women didn’t talk about sexual harassment and friends didn’t talk about race; when women (and especially women of color) were trying to build careers and no one was acknowledging how much harder it would be for them than for white men. Under such strain, the book seems to say, it’s incredible that women sustain any friendships at all. And yet the distance between Charlie and Helen is moving: the space that opens between them reverberates with what might have been. I was moved by intimacies near and far, real and imagined, lost and found.” —Louisa Hall, The New York Times Book Review, cover review
“Absorbing, intelligent, touching. . . a bittersweet love story about a lost friend, a missed romance, and an all-consuming career. Freudenberger deploys physics as a catalyst for new perspectives on time and our trajectories through it, rather than just metaphorical ballast. She balances the science with tender, convincing portraits of two kids. Enriched by multi-level discussions about the spacetime continuum, whether Einstein believed in God, uncertainty, gravity, and, most notably, the force we exert on each other, Lost and Wanted is a moving story about down-to-earth issues: an outstanding achievement.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR
“Dazzling, ingenious . . . a gorgeous literary novel about loss and human limitations. Over the months that follow her friend Charlie’s death Helen, a distinguished professor of physics at MIT, grapples with grief, midlife regrets and the disruptive possibility of life after death. Helen’s thoughts meander from a wry social observation to a digression on physics to a heart-rending epiphany [and] the novel ends with its own version of a ‘big bang.’ Freudenberger has a penetrating imagination.” —Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
“A marvelous depiction of the direct link between the body’s cravings and the passions of the mind.” —Richard Powers, “By the Book” in The New York Times Book Review
“Sometimes a novel guarantees you a pleasurably mind-bending time just with its opening paragraph. That’s the case with Lost and Wanted, a novel with venturesome verve . . . Cultures in collision [here] have less to do with nationality or identity than with the world of science and its seeming opposite: human feelings of being haunted in times of grief. The book slyly weighs the way we use intuition and intellect to parse our realities; the artful parallels between emotional questions and scientific inquiry feel urgent . . . Freudenberger handles the mystery of where noise fades and pattern emerges brilliantly.” —Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
“An account of dazzling friends—brilliant, gorgeous, funny Charlie, with a thriving career as a screenwriter, [and] Helen, an MIT physics professor, a deeply sympathetic heroine. Freudenberger [writes] warm, enlivening dialogue; intimations of the paranormal [also] flicker through the novel, seeding certainty with doubt. This is a novel of grief: it opens in the first dazed stages of mourning. Freudenberger tells a story of connections forged and severed, of love orphaned of its object. Lost and Wanted is about having basked in a glow that should have shone so much longer — about not knowing where that light went, or what to do with the black hole it left behind.” —Laura Collins-Hughes, Boston Globe
“Insightful . . . a search for a ripple in space-time becomes a symbol of how lives are changed by forces we cannot see. Freudenberger relates the momentous discovery by physicists of a gravitational wave. What other wonders might we be missing simply because, for the moment, we lack the instruments to detect them? The phenomenon that troubles Lost and Wanted is life after death—an age-old concern viewed here [through] the narrator, an MIT physicist. This novel is smart about the ways that parents try to explain mortality to children—kids are usually patronized in works of fiction, but in this book they’re on equal footing with the adults, who have no clearer understanding of what awaits us after death than they do.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Satisfying. In vivid, crisp prose, Freudenberger asks how a scientist reckons with the inexplicable. Her best friend’s death causes more emotional fissures than she anticipates, and she [must] confront dark matter—the ebb and flow of new and evolving relationships; the way memory feels truer than reality; and phenomena that can never be explained. With page-turning acceleration, Lost and Wanted is a piercing meditation on the immutable truths that mourning calls into question. Freudenberger [has a] gravity-defying gift.” —Nafissa Thompson-Spires, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Intelligent and moving—astute. This novel is wonderful on the energy, intellectual affectation, genuine intellectual curiosity, and exaggerated feeling of youth. The novel is good, too, on the alternating joy, frustration, hilarity, and boredom of parenting. More than anything though, Freudenberger is excellent in her account of female friendships: the intensity with which they form in youth, the pressures that external circumstances put on them, and then the reshaping they undergo in middle age. It is very hard not to like this ambitious, thoughtful, and philosophical novel right away, and very hard not to be moved by its portrait of grief and of what endures.”
—Dehn Gilmore, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Lively, deft—[an] absorbing and intelligent tribute to female friendship. . .What does the matter-of-fact Helen believe about the junction of science and the unknown? Freudenberger leaves that decision to us, but not before she sets up a pyrotechnic ending.” —Helen T. Verongos, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Timely and delightfully observant of relationships, this novel is deeply heartfelt, amazingly intellectual, and beautifully thought- provoking.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“A searching tale of grief and friendship . . . After Helen, a professor of theoretical physics, learns that her college best friend has just died, suddenly the universe stops making sense — or maybe, as Freudenberg engrossingly posits, it’s actually just starting to make sense. Freudenberger employs her distinctive skills — her stylistic restraint, the unmannered quality of her prose . . . Freudenberger [is] a major novelist.” —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
“An empathetic and gorgeous novel.” —Elena Nicolau, Refinery29
“Engrossing . . . [this is] Freudenberger doing her best work.” —Boris Kachka, Vulture
“Freudenberger’s novel is set in a Boston that calls to mind Henry James country, a bastion of correctness and rational thought. It is all the more jarring, then, when Helen Clapp, a single mother and tenured chair in MIT’s physics department, receives a phone call and then text messages from the afterlife. Helen doesn’t write off the transmissions as a hoax—she sits tight and collects data, all the while conducting a meticulous reexamination of her long and bewildering relationship with her estranged best friend, Charlie, who moved to Hollywood after college and died from an autoimmune disease. The book takes up weighty themes such as grief and sexism in the worlds of academia and entertainment, peppering the narration with evocative asides on black holes and quantum entanglement . . . The prose is enticing [on] friendship, that most unstable and mysterious of connections.” —Lauren Mechling, Vogue
“A magnificent novel: a warm and insightful look into human relationships and the mysteries of time. Refreshingly, the science in Lost and Wanted is never window dressing: the concepts that Freudenberger describes are integral to the plot. And the story takes unexpected turns on its way to a heartbreaking conclusion.” —Michael Magras, BookPage (starred review)
“Heartbreaking: fulfilling what the heart wants and what the mind wants—Lost and Wanted examines our desires.” —Ann Patchett, quoted in The Wall Street Journal
“What happens to our souls when we die? Does our consciousness leave a trace on earth? Freudenberger explores the complicated nature of friendship—especially the relationships that we form in youth, as we are trying to discover ourselves—and delves into the existential questions that plague physicists and laypeople alike . . . Lost and Wanted is prescient [in] connecting scientific and metaphysical faith in things that cannot be seen with the naked eye.” —Newsday
“A truly lovely story about friendship.” —Mehera Bonner, Cosmopolitan
“A beautifully written, moving meditation on grief and friendship.”—Mackenzie Dawson, New York Post
“There aren’t many novels that bring to mind both Middlemarch and Bridget Jones’s Diary—but Lost and Wanted is one of them. On the one hand, it’s a serious-minded exploration of loss, grief and disappointment; on the other, Freudenberger is always aware not just of the annoying gap between our imagined self and the messier reality, but also of how comic that gap can be. Freudenberger’s willingness to accept human contradictions—and to lay them out with a combination of calm rigour and rueful comedy—triumphantly makes Lost and Wanted the real thing . . . An endlessly rich novel.” —James Walton, The Times (UK)
“Are we connected? Are we alone? 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
“Lost and Wanted is a new kind of mystery novel, written with an artist's rigor and a scientist's intuition. Nell Freudenberger shines her light into the farthest reaches of the universe, and also into the whirring spaces between parents and children, lost loves, and best friends. A beautiful book." —Karen Russell
"This tender, engaging story takes a physicist for its heroine, and boldly bends the forces of the universe to the binding love between friends, between partners, between parents and their children. It’s not sci-fi, but something we might call fi-sci—a literary and emotional adventure peopled by complex, sympathetic characters, some of whom happen to do science as they navigate their most important relationships." —Dava Sobel
"Intellectually dazzling and almost unbearably moving. Probing the mysteries of the physical universe and the equally mysterious nature of human connection, Freudenberger writes fearlessly and lyrically about physics and grief; parenthood and friendship; the subtleties of race and the seriousness of female ambition. I've read many novels that made me think and some that made me cry, but few that did both as powerfully as this one did." —Amy Waldman
“Like the finely calibrated tools of particle physics described in its pages, Nell Freudenberger’s novel demonstrates an astonishing sensitivity to the forces that move us all. Her rendering of grief—with its shadings of denial, anger, longing, dark humor, and magic—is nothing short of perfection.” —Julie Orringer
“Before the full scope of the accomplishment has sunk in—the lucid, compassionate portraits of a wide array of characters, the meticulous hand with which Freudenberger paints their world—you’ll be beguiled, as I was, by Helen’s narration, so full of humble longing and deep, sweet ruefulness.”—Jonathan Lethem
“An iridescent story of friendship. Lost and Wanted is an extraordinary book, startling in its open curiosity and love.” —Rivka Galchen
"Remarkable—a lucid, humane and wryly comic view of the way we live today. One reads the novel with pleasure and marvels at Freudenberger's courage and intelligence. A great work of art." —David Bezmozgis
“Gorgeous, brainy, and passionate. Lost and Wanted is the best kind of big American novel: a majestic book that takes on nothing less than the nature of the universe—literally—while probing that similarly infinite mystery known as the human heart. Nell Freudenberger’s writing is fearless and profound, as it absolutely must be in order to pull off this very modern ghost story that unfolds in the life of an MIT physicist. Freudenberger is one of our best novelists, and she's delivered a real powerhouse of a novel.” —Ben Fountain
“[A] stunning portrayal of grief…. 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. [This] story is about grief not only at the loss of [a] friend but also at the demise of countless possible futures. A beautiful and moving novel.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)
“Compelling, seductively poetic; deeply involving, suspenseful and psychologically lush. Freudenberger’s obvious pleasure in the heady realm of physics ensures that Helen is a mesmerizing narrator. Freudenberger is spellbinding in her imaginative use of particle physics as a mirror of human entanglement and uncertainty. She ventures into the curious alignments among physics, memory, sorrow and the fate of consciousness after death. With daring, zest, insight, wit, and compassion, Lost and Wanted gracefully and thrillingly bridges the divide between science and art.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Brimming with wit and intelligence and devoted to things that matter: life, love, death, and the mysteries of the cosmos. Nell Freudenberger is good at explaining physics, but her real genius is in the depiction of relationships. Each one in the novel—whether between adults, adults and children, or among children—is unique, finely calibrated, and real. The title is a line from a poem by W.H. Auden, which doesn't fully hit until the end of the book, when it takes on heart-rending poignancy.” —Kirkus (starred review)