Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Review: What Is Found, What Is Lost

What Is Found, What Is Lost
Anne Leigh Parrish
She Writes Press
paperback, 253 pages
Publication Date: October 14, 2014

I first read Anne Leigh Parrish's debut novel over the summer, and it is striking to me that the characters and the atmosphere of the novel have continued to stay with me. I first read Parrish's short story collection Our Love Could Light the World back in January, and really loved the way Parrish built her characters. The characters in Parrish's stories were just so real: flawed, yes, and not always thoroughly likable. But oh so real.

In What is Found, What is Lost Parrish again creates real and convincing characters, who seem to have stepped out of life and on to the pages of her novel. What is Found, What is Lost is a complex, multi-generational story that tackles life's most mystifying questions. In particular, Parrish shows how four generations of women grapple with questions of faith.

The novel begins with Freddie, a recent widow, looking back over her life with her late husband, Ken. Her daughter, Beth, soon enters the story and we begin to see the layers of conflict between Beth and Freddie. Eventually the reader finds out that Freddie and her sister Holly had a very unusual upbringing in a Baptist revival camp, and that their mother Lorraine was both a religious zealot and a seriously neglectful mother. In part two of the novel we get even more of Freddie's back story when we learn about her grandmother, Anna, who emigrated from Constantinople. Anna is a complex woman, and in some ways the core of the book. Her first marriage to Paul, and then her relationship with Olaf, for whom she leaves Paul, inform all of the intricacies of the other relationships in the book.

I suppose this is what I love most about Parrish's writing. She somehow creates the intricate context for understanding everything her characters do, and she does it all while maintaining a compelling sense of story. Parrish is unafraid of the most contentious topics: her novel explores the intersection of faith and doctrine within the context of Judaism, Catholicism, the Baptist faith, and Islam. Her characters include a convert to Islam, a Catholic priest involved in an extramarital affair, and a placid atheism that is not without a spiritual aspect.

I loved the way that Freddie looked back on her life with a sort of distance and wisdom, and the way that her relationship with Beth, who has worked as a stripper, contains both parental guilt and acceptance. In fact, there are no characters in this book who arrive at any sort of perfection: every character is entirely believable because each has thoroughly human flaws.

It is difficult to really do What is Found, What is Lost justice in a short review. I will just say that this is writing of the highest quality. Anna, Lorraine, Freddie, and Beth are still so vivid and alive to me. The novel is a beautifully woven tapestry that brings to life multiple generations, showing how their lives are interwoven. Highly recommended.

Anne Leigh Parrish has a website here:

The novel is available on-line and in bookstores, and can be ordered through Barnes and Noble, as well as the author's website.

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