I refuse to participate in the whole "curse of the second novel" debate, mostly because they're cruel (and if I ever entertain ideas of writing myself, it's crap like this that sends my insecure little heart scurrying into hiding). But in this case, it's a moot point anyway. Lost and Found is miles away from Parkhurst's acclaimed debut, The Dogs of Babel, in both mood and subject matter. But it shares with that earlier novel a fine sense of craft and heart.
Lost and Found is the story of a group of reality show contestants, traveling the world for a chance at a million bucks. Their stories are typical for the genre: a mother and daughter united by a shameful secret; a pair of brothers still living out their childhood roles; an ex-gay couple brought together by a "Christian recovery" group; two rich guys whose motives are unclear; a couple of high school sweethearts reunited for a second chance at love; and a pair of former child stars trying to reclaim past glory.
The great thing about Parkhurst is her ability to transcend these tropes and show us the humanity behind the caricatures. Within the unreality of the reality show, personalities clash and secrets are kept or revealed, mostly to the misery of the secret-keeper. As with any multiple-narrator novel, some characters (and therefore some chapters) are stronger than others, but by the end, the story feels whole. Laura, the guilty mother, is the obvious protagonist, but I found myself drawn more to Abby, the "ex-lesbian" stuck in a pretty loveless marriage with a zealous, hypocritical fellow recovering homosexual, Justin. Justin's surprising outburst near the end of the novel gives needed momentum to the story (since we aren't really invested in the outcome of the show itself).
A great read.
Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. Little Brown, 2006, 304 pages.