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A Novel


On a cold January morning Susan leaves her husband alone for a few minutes and returns to find him gone. He has Alzheimer's-he no longer knows how to dress or feed or wash himself-and he has wandered alone into a frigid landscape with no sense of home or direction. Lost.

The massive search for her husband brings Susan together with Jeff, a search and rescue expert and social worker preoccupied with his young wife's betrayal. Hovering on the periphery is Corey, a young boy rendered mute and abandoned by his family after setting a fire in which his older brother was killed. His fate has been placed in Jeff's hands. As Susan and Jeff endure an intolerable wait for news, and Corey waits to learn his future, the search becomes an internal one too. Susan silently considers the diagnosis that transformed her marriage into a caretaking relationship, the abrupt decision to leave her career and home for an isolated house in upstate New York, those few stolen moments alone. And Jeff confronts his devotion to a woman for whom he was never enough, and the urgent need to find a home for Corey.

Written in spare, beautiful prose, Lostexplores the ways the simplest, briefest of moments--a fleeting instinct, a turned back, a split-second decision--can have a profound impact on our lives and the way responsibility, love, and sorrow can bind us together.

This reading group guide for Lost by Alice Lichtenstein includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



The search for a missing man suffering from Alzheimer’s brings together three strangers in a small town: Susan, the man’s wife and sole caretaker; Jeff, a search and rescue expert; and Corey, a young boy abandoned by his family for accidentally setting a deadly fire. This intensely emotional story explores how far the bonds of blood, friendship and love can be stretched. With eloquent, spare prose, Alice Lichtenstein paints a compelling portrait of the ways people become lost and found again.


Questions for Discussion

1. In the opening scene, Corey discovers Christopher’s body in the woods. As readers we learn that a man has been found – dead – even before we know how or why he became lost. Why do you think the author decided to begin the novel this way? How did it affect the way you read the rest of the story?       
2. How did you react to the scene at the end of the first chapter? Was Susan a willing or unwilling participant?  Do you agree with the way she describes what has happened: that “she has fulfilled Christopher’s deepest wish—that no being has ever wanted anything more”?

3. How would you characterize Jeff and Leanne’s relationship?  The author writes: “she’d always said he’d rescued her. He was her shining knight. No. She’d never said that. He’d wished she had. A fantasy he could not rid himself of no matter how hard he tried”. Why does Jeff want see himself as Leanne’s savior?  Does she want or need to be saved? 

4. Lost provides two portraits of marriage: Christopher and Susan’s and Jeff and Leanne’s. Compare the two relationships and the accounts of how each couple met.  What draws them together?  How do their relationships change? What critical choices affect the course of each marriage, and how do they play out over time? Which scenes best illustrate the strengths of each marriage?

5. When the fact of Leanne’s miscarriage is revealed, did it affect your understanding of her character and her relationship with Jeff? Did Jeff’s actions – deciding to go out on a call after she asked him to stay – change your opinion of him?

6. Susan grapples with guilt and regret over actions past and present.  What are they?  In what ways does her assumption of guilt belie her scientific persona, her insistence on facts?  How does she seek atonement?  

7. Throughout the novel, the author shifts points of view between Susan, Jeff and Corey. How did this affect the pacing of the book?  How did the different points of view change the way you learn about the characters and about the events of the search and rescue?  How might the book have been different if it was narrated solely by Susan or Jeff?

8. Discuss the theme of caretaking and who takes care of whom in Lost. In which instances is caretaking fulfilling and in which a burden?  Is it sometimes--or always-- both?  When does the burden become too great?  How do the caretaking relationships shift throughout the novel?

9. Why does Corey ultimately set fire to Christopher’s body? What does fire mean to him? Does it always mean the same thing?  

10. When Jeff asks Susan if she loved Christopher, she responds “we got lost together once in a rain forest. On an island. We were totally and completely lost, but we survived.” How do you interpret her answer?  How does it relate to her marriage?  To Christopher being lost in the snow?

11. Susan is a woman who makes controversial choices.  In her career, in leaving Princeton to care for Christopher alone, in adopting Corey. Do you think she chooses wisely?  Did you identify with her?  Why or why not? 

12. Consider the last passage of the book describing Corey’s memory of riding a roller coaster with his brother and seeing his mother waving at him proudly. Why do you think the author chose to end the story with this striking memory?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. How many members of your group know someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s? If they are comfortable with it, have those members share some of their experiences. Do you see any similarities to the experiences portrayed in Lost?

2. During your meeting, have each member recount a memory of being “lost,” either literally or figuratively, and the effects of that experience.

3. The novel makes several references to the Greek tragedies Antigone and Oedipus, including the book’s epigraph.  Look up summaries of these plays or read them and discuss the thematic significance of these references. Why do you think the author chose to incorporate them?  How do they shape your understanding of Susan, with whom they are often associated?