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Straubathon: lost boy lost girl

The Straubathon continues! And now, after having read Peter Straub’s 2003 novel lost boy lost girl, I’m only ten years behind instead of twenty!

lost boy lost girl returns us to the vibrant world of Tim Underhill, a recurring character from Straub’s Blue Rose trilogy whom we haven’t seen since 1993’s The Throat. Also on hand, albeit in only a too-small number of scenes, is Tim’s good friend, and the hero of Straub’s 1990 novel Mystery, Tom Pasmore (also last seen in The Throat). In fact, the town of Millhaven rears its head once more, too, as do the great and terrible Beldame Oriental movie palace, 55 Grand Street, and Maggie Lah, all of which for this reader makes the novel a bit like revisiting family. (Seriously, the only thing missing from making this a direct sequel to the Blue Rose trilogy is the Green Woman tavern.)

Revisiting family is exactly what Tim Underhill is doing as the novel starts, though for a terrible reason. His beloved sister-in-law Nancy has done the unthinkable and committed suicide, leaving behind her fragile teenage son Mark and stubborn husband Philip, Tim’s brother. After the funeral,Tim’s nephew Mark disappears, and everyone is worried that a recently active pedophile murderer has kidnapped and killed him. But as Straub rewinds the clock to show us what really transpired between the funeral and the disappearance–a literary sleight of hand he performs numerous times over the course of the novel–it becomes clear there’s something more supernatural at work. Mark has become obsessed with an old, deserted house in his neighborhood, a house filled with secret passages and terrible secrets. Secrets that hit too close to home, and may have had something to do with Nancy’s suicide.

This is the first time I’ve read anything featuring Tim Underhill that wasn’t written in the first person, and for a while I felt unexpectedly detached from the narrative because of it. I’ve lived in Underhill’s head through hundreds of pages of novels and stories like “The Ghost Village,” and to suddenly be outside of him was jarring. I got over that quickly, thanks to the quality of Straub’s prose and the frequent use of chunks of Underhill’s personal journal, which are written in the first person. But this is a novel of floating POVs, and so it can’t be told only through Underhill’s eyes. Still, the sidelining of Underhill in order to focus on Mark and his friend Jimbo instead for the first two thirds of the book made the novel feel strangely insubstantial. Part of this may be because I’m used to Straub novels running something like 500 pages, where clues are doled out slowly over time as we become fully immersed in the world of his characters. Comparatively, lost boy lost girl feels condensed. Not a bad thing, but not the immersive experience I’ve come to expect.

Ah, but then we come to the last third of the novel, and without mincing words, it is utterly transcendent. You can feel the author wrestling with the concept of mortality right there on the page and discovering that what waits for us on the other side isn’t so much terrible and scary as beautiful, peaceful, loving, and fulfilling. Beauty, from the smell of fresh baked cookies to the glow of young love, is the staple of the beyond, and though the children of the title may be gone, they are not truly, in any sense, lost. Closing the book after the sublime last line, which stands as a perfect monument to the novel’s tender heart, I could do nothing but smile and bask in its ultimate benevolence.