Wednesday, July 18, 2007

MotherTalk Review: Lost And Found

I signed on to do the Mother-Talk Blog book tour because, hey, free books? And you want to pay me a little something to spout my opinion on them? Dood. Where do I sign?

The first book to come my way was Lost And Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. The basic plot is following contestants on a reality TV show. Now, I say I’m not much of a reality TV fan, since I don’t watch things like American Idol, Big Brother or America’s Next Top Model. In fact, I get kind of sneery about those shows. Scratch the surface, though, and I will, somewhat shamefacedly, admit to thoroughly enjoying Project Runway, Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. I kid myself that because the first two are on Bravo and the third features a British chef, that they must be a cut above those other shows. You can snicker, it’s ok. I know I’m ridiculous.

I wasn’t sure about this book initially. I didn’t really want to know all the ins and outs behind a reality TV show. I was concerned that the book would be dull. It was anything but.

In Lost and Found, Ms. Parkhurst writes about several pairs of contestants. Some are fleshed out more than others – the first few couples eliminated are just bare bones, no real development to their characters, which is fine. The characters who are well drawn do fall into a few stereotypes, but I felt this was appropriate, given that all reality TV shows do this same thing.

(Spoiler Alert!) Laura and Cassie are a mother-daughter team with a secret – Cassie, the teen-aged daughter, has had a baby girl that she’s given up for adoption. Her mother didn’t find out about the pregnancy until Cassie had delivered the baby. In their attic. Alone. The scenes relaying the aftermath of that birth and subsequent flashbacks that fill in the details of the adoption were painful for me to read. They were well-written and brought tears to my eyes more than once. Ms. Parkhurst is very good at portraying the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, the miscommunications, the pain and the joy that comes from dealing with a teen-aged daughter.

There were also two child stars, Juliet and Dallas. Dallas was fairly one-dimensional, just a goofy guy who didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t at the top of the ratings. Juliet was another story. She desperately wanted to be back in the limelight, having been in it her entire life. She spent most of the contest, and book, making sure she was seen in the best light and was easily the most manipulative of the bunch. She does sort of redeem herself towards the end of the book, but I was left doubting the sincerity of her change of heart, as, it seemed, was Cassie, the person who witnessed this change.

Carl and Jeff are two brothers. Both are nice and Jeff is definitely the class clown, but I didn’t find either one all that interesting. Nice, but sort of forgettable. They were chosen to be on the show because Carl’s young son was born with a serious liver defect and Carl donated part of his liver to keep his son alive. The medical upheaval that the child went through contributed to the end of Carl’s marriage.

The most interesting, and maddening, couple (after Laura and Cassie) were Justin and Abby. Both were “reformed” gay people, having joined a Christian group called Redemption that claims it can make gay people straight. Abby is fairly honest with herself when she has thoughts about other women, but Justin is in complete denial and rails, vociferously, against homosexuality. I found him to be one of the least likable characters in the book, which, I’m sure, was the intention. He has a pretty spectacular fall that results in a tense, if somewhat predictable, scene towards the end of the book. I was almost glad to see him fall apart like that, since it showed the folly of trying to redirect someone away from being gay, from denying who they are. I found myself hoping that he’d learn to accept who he was rather than continue down this guilt-ridden path he thought would lead him to heaven.

I thought this book was very well-written. I whipped through it because the plot and the characters grabbed me; I cared about them which made me want to read another page, just one more chapter, in order to find out what happened next. I liked the way Ms. Parkhurst blended the “reality” and the reality, showing hints of how these kinds of shows are manipulated and molded to make sure every last ounce of drama is wrung from them, how audiences are played to root for one team over another and how real drama and real feelings are exploited for ratings. She did an excellent job of showing that reality TV isn’t about reality. It’s about ratings, contestants be damned.

There is a very good interview with Carolyn Parkhurst here.


Anonymous said...

I just finished my very first book since giving birth to my son 3.5 years ago! It was a trashy novel, so nothing to brag about, but I'm proud of the accomplishment none-the-less!

kittenpie said...

Sounds interesting, even though I'm not a reality TV watcher, either. I bet MetroMama, who loves books AND reality TV, would adore this.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Sounds like a fun read. I do like some reality TV---love the Amazing Race, for instance---so maybe I'll check this one out too.