STARRED REVIEW
April 2019

Lost and Wanted

By Nell Freudenberger
Review by

If you’re a scientist, you tend to believe in facts, not ghosts. You can imagine, then, how MIT professor of theoretical physics Helen Clapp must feel when she starts receiving text messages from her friend, Charlotte “Charlie” Boyce, shortly after Charlie’s early death. 

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If you’re a scientist, you tend to believe in facts, not ghosts. You can imagine, then, how MIT professor of theoretical physics Helen Clapp must feel when she starts receiving text messages from her friend, Charlotte “Charlie” Boyce, shortly after Charlie’s early death. 

That’s the premise with which Nell Freudenberger opens her third novel, Lost and Wanted. And what a novel it is, a work about cold, hard science that is also a warm and insightful look into human relationships and the mysteries of time.

Charlie and Helen, who met at Harvard during freshman orientation in 1989, came from disparate backgrounds. They were, respectively, “an upper-middle-class black girl from Brookline and a work-study white science nerd from Pasadena.” Helen became a physicist, wrote two popular books for laypersons about quantum cosmology and black holes, and co-published a celebrated model for “quark gluon plasma as a black hole in curved five-dimensional space-time” with a former boyfriend named Neel Jonnal. 

Charlie, meanwhile, moved to Los Angeles and became an executive television producer. She had a daughter after marrying a “blindingly attractive” surfer whose brother was in jail for drug possession. But life wasn’t always easy for Charlie. At Harvard, a professor’s advances persuaded her to abandon her thesis on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, author of Dangerous Liaisons, and give up her dreams of studying at Oxford. Later, she contracted the lupus that led to her death.

Shortly after Charlie dies, Helen’s 7-year-old son, Jack, whom she had through an anonymous donor, claims to have seen a ghost in their house. And that’s when the texts start arriving, messages containing information that only Charlie could have known. 

Also arriving in Massachusetts: Charlie’s surfer husband, who plans to live with his in-laws, and Helen’s former boyfriend Neel, who accepts an MIT post to continue groundbreaking work on gravitational waves. 

Refreshingly, the science in Lost and Wanted is never window dressing, as the technical concepts that Freudenberger describes at length are integral to the plot. And the story takes unexpected turns on its way to a heartbreaking conclusion. It is a magnificent novel.

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Lost and Wanted

Lost and Wanted

By Nell Freudenberger
Knopf
ISBN 9780385352680

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