As I write this review, I am lying in almost the exact same position as the stone person on the cover of the book, my laptop tipped sideways so I can type. This is what Amina Gautier’s The Loss of All Lost Things does to a person: it fills your head with bittersweet heaviness, pushes you ever so gently off-center with a finger to your temple, and lets gravity pull you down, down, down into contemplation.
This is not light reading, is what I’m getting at. True to its title, The Loss of All Lost Things is a collection of short stories about various losses: of youth, of hope, of love, of relationships, of culture, of self. It is also an exploration of the ways in which we lose these things, through death, divorce, or distance, both physical and emotional. Parents lose their children to kidnapping or boarding school, people lose their spouses to sordid age-gap affairs, and well-to-do citizens lose their ignorance when confronted by the reality of class and racial barriers. There is a current of pain and sadness running through Gautier’s stories, which makes for a particularly poignant read at a time when all our everyday losses are so compounded by pandemic and politics.
Though there is diversity in loss and losing, Gautier’s stories display less range in setting and characters, as they tend to feature academics from the insular collegiate American Northeast. From high school teachers at a private boarding school to university professors to grad school dropouts, Gautier points out the foibles and failings of academia in these characters’ personal flaws and worldly struggles. A couple of the stories specifically reference the area surrounding Philadelphia, which — as someone who recently graduated from a college in that area and who continues to live here — was hilarious and a little bit uncomfortable to read, in the way that all overly accurate satirical representations are.
As much as this is a book about loss, it is also a book about love, perhaps because it is the loss of love that affects us most as human beings. Parenthood is a prominent theme, as are separation and divorce, loneliness, and the search for meaningful connection. Gautier deftly avoids stereotypes and melodrama in her portrayals, but there is a resignation common to all of them, such that they all seem to bleed into one big story of hurting and having been hurt.
By centering loss and love in this collection, Gautier invites the reader to consider the things they have lost in their own life, and all the ways in which they continue to lose them. It’s a thought-provoking exploration of humanity and the ways in which we relate to one another — an exploration I will continue to lie with for awhile, after I’ve posted this review and put my laptop to sleep.