Oct 12, 2008

lost boy lost girl by Peter Straub

Timothy Underhill, a novelist, returns to his hometown when his sister-in-law, Nancy Underhill, commits suicide for no apparent reason. A week after the funeral, back in New York, he receives a distressing phone call from his brother. Mark Underhill, his fifteen-year-old nephew, has been missing for a few days. Tim decides to investigate, and he discovers that Mark’s disappearance may be connected to his mother’s suicide. But in an unexpected way: It seems that both occurrences have to do with a mysterious and unsettling abandoned house on Michigan House – a house Mark had become obsessed with just before he disappeared.

lost boy lost girl is divided in five parts, and they move back and forth in time and present different points of view. Although Tim’s investigation provides a framework for the story, we have sections from Mark’s point of view, from his best friend Jimbo’s, and even from Nancy’s – or perhaps what we have are Tim’s reconstruction of what events might have been like from their points of view. He is a writer, after all.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. I liked it, but not as much as I was expecting to. One of the problems was the fact that I felt that the story took a while to build up, and then was resolved too fast. The answers to certain questions are given too soon, and the answers to other questions are never given at all. Certain things, which I thought would be at the core of the story, were barely explored. And while I don’t normally mind open endings, I have to admit that at the end of lost boy lost girl I was left unsatisfied.

However, Peter Straub has written a sequel to this novel, a book called In the Night Room. Lightheaded really enjoyed it, and I always trust her opinion. So I’ll definitely read that as well, and hopefully some of the aspects of the story I wanted to find out more about will be explored in more detail.

Shortcomings aside, lost boy lost girl is a very good book. Even though it starts with a normal (albeit tragic) scenario, it feels ominous and haunting from the very first page. The story is told in a complex way, and even with the problems I mentioned I think that the structure works. And while lost boy lost girl is disturbing and heartbreaking, it's also funny, intelligent and moving.

Plus there are the characters, which are the kind you completely believe in and truly care about. But again I have to complain about something: Mark is portrayed as a fairly intelligent teenager, and mostly he acts like one. Only he writes all his e-mails like deez, u c? And I have to wonder, was that really necessary? It’s not like every teenager spells like that when writing e-mails, making it absolutely necessary for the character to do that to be believable. It felt a bit contrived, and even out of character for Mark.

I found myself thinking about bits of lost boy lost girl for days after I’d finished it, and that’s always a good sign. It is a good book, haunting and memorable and well-written, e-mails from teenagers aside. Hopefully my dissatisfaction will lessen after I read In the Night Room.

Other opinions:
Everyday Reads
somewhere i have never travelled


  1. I read lost boy lost girl a few years ago. I don't remember a lot, but I think I was surprised by the ending.
    I started In the Night Room but for some reason didn't finish it. Maybe I should track it down ...

  2. i read this a few years ago. It creeped me out, but you're right - not enough time is spent in the house, and I thought the characters should fight back a bit more, though now that I have read the book about Holmes, that this story is based on (the serial killer in Chicago), i'm not so sure the characters are acting out of line. I hate the house! So I'm going to have to read In the Night Room now and see what I think, too. Lost boy lost girl is a book that haunts, though, long after, the feeling of it...

  3. I agree with you about the emails, I thought that was silly (along with the pop culture references). But the house was cool... Susan, are you referencing the killer featured in The Devil in The White City? I loved that book and found the 'devil' in that book very creepy... But yes, it was a good book, but with some fairly unsatisfying chunks. I had no idea there was a sequel! I might have to check that out.

  4. Funny but with the emails I found myself reading Mark and Jimbo's dialogue with that teenage slang and all that :)

    I do hope you won't end up disappointed with the sequel of sorts :)

  5. Maree: I was surprised that that was the ending :P Especially because my edition comes with a preview of In the Night Room and I hadn't realized it, so I thought there were still quite a few pages left and that the story would be resolved more fully. Sigh.

    Susan: Yes, I absolutely agree. The feeling of it does stay with you. I'm curious about that book you mentioned now!

    Daphne: The house was cool, and very disturbing too. The good bits really were excellent...it was too bad about the less than satisfying ones.

    Lightheaded: I didn't really mind the way Mark and Jimbo talked, with all the yos and whatnot :P But the spelling in the e-mails did annoy me, possibly because it really annoys me when people do that in real life. And I hope the same. From what you said about it, I have the feeling I won't be let down.

  6. Well, you've left me intrigued enough to pull it out and put it in the read-a-thon pile...along with the other fifty books I've got there. ;)
    It's been a really long time since I've read anything by Straub, but I still remember how much I loved Ghost Story even though I don't remember much about it. Can't wait to hear what you think of the next one.

  7. I don't think I've read any of his books... so I'll have to check out his books. I hope the sequel will be better! :)

  8. I've not read any of Straub's books although I do have several sitting on my shelves. I've heard that he's a good one for scary books. I like what you said about this being a book that you still though about days after you finished it -- even if I don't love a book, if it still manages to stay with me for a while then that's something I pay attention to and more than likely will make me pick another book by the author.

  9. I read Straub's Ghost Story years ago -- one of the scariest books I've ever read!

  10. I have a Straub book that he co-wrote with Stephen King called Black House. I still havent read it. This sounds like a good read. It's interesting the little things we notice about book characters that can bother us...like Marks email writing.

  11. I have never read a book by Straub. I think I may have one on my shelf to try.

  12. Started this one a few months ago and never really go into it, so back into the TBR pile it went. Will have to give it another go at some point though.

  13. I've never read one of his books that he's written on his own. I did like the two he collaborated with Stephen King on though.

  14. Debi: I think this might work well for the read-a-thon...it's a story that grabs you. This was my first Straub, but I've heard a lot about Ghost Story. I have to pick it up sometime.

    Melody: Even if it's "just" as good as this I think I'll be happy...I'd just like to see some of the story's details explored more fully.

    Iliana: Yes, same here...I really liked it when a book manages to make me think about it for days.

    Jenclair: I really have to read that one!

    Naida: It is interesting. I bet other readers wouldn't mind it at all, but it just really irked me.

    Literary Feline, I hope you enjoy it.

    Bart: I hope it works better for you next time!

  15. Ladytink, can you believe I've never read any King? I will amend that, though.

  16. I've not read these but it does sound good even though the end left you disatisfied. I'm curious to see what you'll say about the sequel. I do like a book that makes me love it's characters though-that's one of the things that makes a book memorable to me. Great review Nymeth.

  17. Thank you, Dar. And I agree. I love good characterization. It's one of the most important things in a book for me.

  18. Great review!

    And while lost boy lost girl is disturbing and heartbreaking, it's also funny, intelligent and moving.

    Now that intrigues me!

    Btw...I emailed Kim Powers about Capote in Kansas, and he is willing to ship internationally! Good luck!

    --AnnaDiary of an Eccentric


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