In Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” section, you can almost always find a titillating headline or two, something like “Goth Woman in Piggly Wiggly Produce Section” or “Saw You at Six Flags’ Drop of Doom, May 17.” We all have a story about the one that got away, but not everyone takes that obsession to the lengths the hero does in Freya Sampson’s charming second novel, The Lost Ticket.
Smitten with a young woman he met on London’s 88 bus line in 1962, Frank Weiss has spent a considerable portion of his adult life riding public transport in hopes of meeting her just once more. Only problem is, there are 9 million people in London, Frank doesn’t know the woman’s name, and the information he has on her (red hair, art student, bus rider) is several decades old. Oh, and one more problem: Frank is evincing the beginning stages of dementia, so if he’s going to find her while he still remembers her, the clock’s ticking pretty loudly.
As luck would have it, the 88 bus affords Frank a second meet cute. This time, it’s a young woman named Libby Nicholls, who is in the midst of her own relationship crisis. Intrigued by Frank’s plight, she decides to distract herself from her own problems by taking on his. She enlists the help of Frank’s caregiver, Dylan, and his friend Esme, who has Down syndrome, to leaflet along the bus route in hopes of turning up a clue. This is how you find a lost cat, after all, so why not a lost love?
Meanwhile, Libby is thrown a few curveballs, both emotional and physical, that make her efforts for Frank more challenging. We discover that, just like unconsummated rendezvous, words left unspoken can provoke profound repercussions. And while all this is going down, occasional chapters introduce a character named Peggy, who may or may not be connected to—or even be—the object of Frank’s affection.
Sampson’s true gift is bringing to life an improvised family of three-dimensional characters with real struggles and real humanity. In a way, The Lost Ticket is the ultimate literary British Invasion, uniting the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” with the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” As Mick Jagger says, if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.