Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lost by Jacqueline Davies

Lost is really the telling of two stories, which eventually become one. Because of this, readers need a little patience as Lost starts slowly.

The first story begins on February 6, 1905 with Essie Rosenfeld recounting the birth of her younger sister Zelda. Her father died 8 months earlier leaving Essie, her mother Hannah and younger brother Saulie left to struggle on in life. Her mother is not interested in the new baby, whom she views as just another mouth for the single mother to feed. As a result, Essie names the baby and as we see is primarily responsible for raising Zelda. We follow her story through the years including when she begins working at Triangle on January 9, 1911 at the age of 16.

This storyline is written on grey faded pages which are dated. It is a story of the past, but also of tragedy and loss. The last entry is February 27, 1911, which is the day after Essie's family experiences a terrible tragedy and where the two stories begin to merge.

The second story also told in Essie's voice is of the present. She is now 16 years old and works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. This story opens with Essie training Harriet Abbott her first day at Triangle and noting that she seems lost. Essie recognizes that there is something strange about Harriet. Essie manages to befriend her and learns that Harriet is recently widowed and lives alone in the writer's district. She works at Triangle but aspires to be a writer. However, as Essie becomes better acquainted with Harriet, she begins to realize that Harriet's story has holes and this leads Essie to question the truthfulness of her new friend. Essie eventually discovers Harriet's secret. She decides that she and her mother will help Harriet in her difficult circumstances. She encourages Harriet to return to work one last time to pick up her paycheck on Saturday March 25, 1911. This will have consequences neither of them could have ever anticipated.

We also learn from this story that Essie has her own secrets too. Every night since February 26, 2011 and before she met Harriet, Essie would hurry from her job to search through stores for the right trimmings and material for a Merry Widow hat she is making for her younger sister Zelda. She never ever buys anything to put on the frame. However, it becomes apparent that something has happened to Zelda - something so horrible that Essie is unable or unwilling to acknowledge.

This was an interesting account of this time period in American history that focuses on both the disappearance of Dorothy Arnold, a wealthy young socialite who mysteriously vanished and the Triangle fire. The latter actually occupies very little of the story. Instead, Lost focuses more on Harriet/Dorothy and her mysterious situation as well as Essie's life up until the fire. The accounting of the Triangle fire is brief, although detailed and accurate. But really this is a story about New York city in 1911.

I found the storyline a little confusing and difficult to follow at first. However, it soon becomes apparent that Essie has suffered a deep loss and is unable to cope with this loss. At the same time, older readers will soon discover Harriet's circumstances and realize that all is not as she is telling her new friend Essie. The fact that the two girls work at Triangle allows the author to include the tragedy of the fire in her novel.

The best developed character is Zelda whom I developed an intense dislike for, which I suppose means the author succeeds in this area! She was spoiled, irritating and obnoxious. Her frequent disappearances were a foreshadowing of the tragedy to come.

We also learn a great deal about Essie who boasts that she can fix anything, including other people's mistakes. Unlike other protagonists in the many novels of the Triangle fire published this year, Essie does not escape unscathed from the tragedy.

Overall, Lost is well written and readers who persist will find a rewarding story with a satisfying ending.

Book Details:

Lost by Jacqueline Davies
Tarrytown New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation 2009
242 pp.

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