On Grief and Discovery…

It is said that memoir is a quarter-inch slice of a writer’s life into which she plunges a mile deep. In Lost and Found [$27.00, Random House], Pulitzer Prize winning author Kathryn Schulz grabs that quarter inch (well, more like half an inch) part of her life and blows it out 360 degrees around her—and us.

Certainly, you’ll find conventional memoir storytelling here, as when we learn early on in the first section of the book entitled Lost about the death of Schulz’s devoted, beloved, erudite Jewish refugee father and her undying love for this joyful man she adored. She explores the loss in the essay-style of her New Yorker pieces, serenading us with insights into loss as a construct. “…it encompasses, without distinction, the trivial and the consequential, the abstract and the concrete, the merely misplaced and the permanently gone” Schulz writes. Later, she presents loss more mundanely: “A missing wedding ring can turn the modest geography of an urban park into the Rocky Mountains. Losing sight of your child during a hike can turn a peaceful stream into a formidable wilderness….loss has the power to instantly resize us against our surroundings; we are never smaller and the world never larger than when some- thing important goes missing.”

While living through her father’s declining health, Schulz meets and falls in love with her now-wife C, the focus of the Found segment of the book. “… not having found love and finding love are wholly incommensurable conditions, you can cross from one to the other in a single day. Dante did, the instant he met Beatrice…Incipit vita nova, he wrote, of the moment of finding love: a new life begins.” With numerous literary and cultural reflections such as these, Schulz tenderly examines what it means to find something. Anything. Someone. Her love story with C is a fundamental pillar of Lost & Found, but it’s not the yin to the yang of losing a parent.

It is, rather, a poignant and touching reminder of what relationship and partnership can be. Schulz opens her heart to the reader with honesty and vulnerability, allowing us to feel the delights and challenges of new love.
At times, the details about this newfound love slow down the book, though their love story is astonishingly beau- tiful—perhaps because the perspective of time isn’t there yet for the author. It is hard to imagine, though, Schulz limiting her writing about C and their life together.

Schulz is forthcoming about both her love of Jewish traditions and values and her secular adulthood. On marrying a devout Christian, she writes: “We read from the Bible, broke a glass, said grace before the meal, were lifted up in chairs to dance the hora,“ going on to say “I am bound now to C’s entire lineage and she to mine, and they are bound to each other in perpetuity….” In her wife, Schulz finds a person whose education and religion, vastly different from her own, broaden her quest to understand some of life’s most pressing existential questions.

The book is a revelation: early on in the final section labeled and, Schulz informs us that “&” was originally the last character of a 27-character alphabet. “abCDeFGHIJkLmnopQrsTUVwXYZ &” Schulz illustrates. “&” was not a letter but the word for “and,” something the author examines historically, linguistically, cross-culturally, and practically to mean continuation, or something more to come. “This is the …idea implicit in ‘and’: that something else is about to happen.” What does happen next is a lovely, lyrical, and moving discussion of con- nection, love, absence and contentment. Not to mention, the convincing argument that, regardless of one’s losing or finding, life goes on.

Susie Mann is a member of Lilith’s inaugural New 40 cohort.