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Completely Lost Paperback – April 2, 2016
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A novel about a ghostwriter offers an exercise in family, grief, and adjustment.
When her mother dies prematurely after a battle with cancer, Julia Clark is devastated. Years later, she still struggles to recover from the loss of a bond that always seemed unbreakable. Now a successful ghostwriter, Julia throws herself into her assignments as well as a novel that she hopes will lead to professional success under her own name. Until then, she passes the days with expert after expert--a leading psychoanalyst, a celebrity chef, a prima ballerina, and others--distilling their lives into future bestsellers while the world seems to have moved on without her. Her two sisters have families of their own; her father has started dating again. While her husband, Leo, is sweet and eternally supportive, her mother-in-law, Lilly, is anything but. A well-groomed woman with "detective-like eyes," Lilly never misses a chance to interrogate Julia on when she plans on having children and why she won't refer to her dear old mother-in-law as "Mom," a well-meant sentiment that only succeeds in making Julia's pain more acute. When a new expert guesses that Julia's mother has died, she realizes that she won't truly be able to move on until she makes peace with her loss. The author's prose is polished and evocative: "A ghostwriter must drown her own self and let her imagination live a completely different life." As a result, Julia's voice is clear and inviting, a wry observer suffering a near-universal loss. Indeed, the narrative is strongest when lingering on the ways in which Julia mourns: a beautifully rendered memory of "Mom's wrists...buried in the bowl as she mixed and mashed the tomatoes by hand" evoked by a day spent shadowing a celebrity chef or the moment when Julia takes inspiration from her mother to play a trick on Leo ... Swan (Dear Isabelle, 2007, etc.) renders the desolation of mourning exceedingly well.
The heart of this narrative about coping with loss rings powerfully true. - Kirkus Reviews
For Julia Clark, the 20-something heroine of Oakland writer Jessica Swan's new novel, the saddest moment of every day is when she wakes up. That's when Julia realizes again that her mother, died of cancer when Julia was 20, is gone. "Waves of pain and sorrow wash over me as I realize I can see Mom only in my dreams now," Julia says. "Brief dreams. That's all I have." As with many novels, the events of Completely Lost are drawn from its author's experiences. Swan, too, lost her mother at age 20 at 35, still feels the profound, lasting and far-reaching effects of that death. As she explains in an interview, those emotions are shared by many women who have lost their mothers through death, mental illness, addiction or estrangement. It goes without question that any child, boy or girl, is dramatically impacted by the death of a mother. But those effects, Swan [says], can take on different manifestations in women whose mothers die when they are children, teens or young adults. They often refer to themselves as 'motherless daughters' [...] Women whose mothers die when they are children or teens often feel the need to grow up fast. At age 20, Swan helped with caregiving for her ailing mother. She also was the only family member present at her mother's death. "You start to realize, I depended on her for so much, and there's also this realization that you have to grow up, and no one wants to grow up," Swan says. Many [women], incidentally, have found work in 'helping' professions, as therapists, life coaches or as writers, [including] Swan, whose work efforts often focuses on bereavement. - San Jose Mercury News
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From a peak into the lives of the clients of a ghost writer to the reality of the author's life this book is hard to put down. It is beautifully written in a way that can transport you to a foggy San Francisco night or to New York in the Autumn and it is also beautifully written in a way that is so real. It is filled with emotions including the raw pain of grief from her mother's passing, hilarious pranks on her husband and father, fear of miscarriage and finally peace of mind. This book goes full circle.
I can't wait to read more from Jessica Swan !