Carolyn Parkhurst


"Lost and Found"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage SEP 30, 2006)

"This is no Fantasy Island, reminding viewers to be careful what they wish for; this is a show that tells you that your fantasies and your wishes are the only things you’ve got. The people behind this show want, more than anything, to encourage dissatisfaction. You may think you have everything you need, they tell you, but you’re wrong. Are there dreams you haven’t followed? Could you be happier than you are today? (Never mind that some dreams should never see the light of morning; never mind that happiness is a game only fools think they can win.) They can see you, sitting at home under the blanket of your daily stresses, and they want you to learn how to yearn and strive and despair. They want you thinking that your life is not what you thought it would be, that romance and adventure and a million dollars are out there waiting for you, so close you can see their shadows flickering in the light from the screen."

Given the popularity of reality television, it’s no wonder that authors are turning to this setting for creative plots. Carolyn Parkhurst’s novel Lost and Found tracks the contestants of a reality television series now in its second season. Lost and Found is a worldwide scavenger hunt in which pairs of contestants search the globe for the items they must collect in order to win the million-dollar prize. The frosty, sub-human Barbara Fox—a professional who never lets her icy persona slip for a second, hosts Lost and Found. Barbara is determined to keep her spot as hostess, and like the contestants—she’s willing to do whatever it takes. When the novel begins, the game is already underway, and the contest is now down to 7 pairs of contestants.

Parkhurst cleverly uses the contestants to tell their stories in their own voices, so the chapters go back and forth between several characters. The pairs include: Laura and Cassie—an estranged mother and daughter team, Juliet and Dallas—former child stars who are hoping that reality television will bring new contracts their way, Trent and Riley—young millionaires who may as well be joined at the hip, Betsy and Jason—former childhood sweethearts who have recently reunited and regret it, Wendy and Jillian—middle-aged flight attendants, Carl and Jeff—middle-aged brothers who are the life and soul of the party, and Abby and Justin—former homosexuals who hope to spread their message of "sexual conversion" through the medium of reality television.

Most of the couples are there not just to win the million dollars prize money, or for the thrill of the excitement and challenge of the contest. Most of them are hoping that Lost and Found will somehow or another provide a solution for their problems. Laura, for example, hopes that the time she spends with Cassie will heal their fractured relationship. Juliet—the superficial former child star is now a has-been, and she longs to get back into television again. Lost and Found offers her that chance, but whether or not the programme will satisfy her ambitions is another matter entirely. Justin—a “weird combination of earnest and smug” has denounced his former gay lifestyle and married former lesbian Abby. Justin insists “you don’t have to live the gay lifestyle if you don’t want to.” While Justin and Abby are working hard at being a heterosexual married couple, there are times when they work too hard, and being constantly watched by cameras accentuates the problems in their relationship.

This fast-paced novel sweeps the reader along on a journey through Egypt, Japan, Sweden, London, and Ireland with the emphasis on the characters rather than the intricacies of the game. Under the pressure of the million-dollar prize, lack of sleep, and the tension of constantly being on camera during waking hours, most of the relationships between the contestants begin to show signs of strain. And the game seems to bring tensions between couples to a head. Is this a design in the game strategy or is it a just a coincidence that the couples find themselves tested to breaking point?

While there’s nothing earth shattering here, Parkhurst’s novel makes up for this with warmth and wisdom. The use of various characters to tell their stories allows the reader insight into the characters’ hidden agendas, and the story underscores the old proverb: “Be careful what you wish for--you might just get it.” The novel also brings up some interesting questions regarding “reality” television, authenticity and ethics. This is a light-hearted, enjoyable read—perfect for the traveler.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 83 reviews

 



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About the Author:

Carolyn ParkhurstCarolyn Parkhurst grew up in Waltham, Massachusetts. She majored in English at Wesleyan University and after college she worked in a bookstore for three years, then went and got her M.F.A. in creative writing from American University. She married in 1998 and they had their first child in January 2002, the day after she finished The Dogs of Babel. They live in Washington, D.C.

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