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Book Review: Lost In The Forest by Sue Miller

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In Lost In The Forest, Sue Miller inhabits the family. It’s an extended family, of course, extended in the twenty-first century Anglo-Saxon sense of it being stretched and disrupted by divorce, re-marriage and identity-seeking children. The book starts in what seems to be a conventional setting. Mark and Eva have been divorced for several years. Their two daughters, Emily and Daisy, are approaching adolescence. Theo, their brother, is a toddler, the son of Eva’s second husband, John. Eva’s first marriage to Mark was an exciting and unpredictable affair. The second with John has been a steadier, more reliable experience, perhaps better suited to the anticipated ennui of middle age.

But then an accident claims John’s life and Eva must cope with three children, a household, managing her bookshop and, indeed, her own life alone. She turns back to Mark, who is keen and willing to help.

As its domestic drama unfolds, Lost In The Forest begins to transform itself. What the reader expected to be a tale of relationships rekindled and rediscovered abruptly changes to focus on the younger daughter, Daisy. Daze, as she is called by her father, rarely lives up to either of her names. She is neither the innocent flower, nor the dreamy-headed teenager. Slowly, she reveals herself as a pretty ruthless manipulator of events with an apparently natural talent for exploiting events to her own advantage.

Daisy’s story becomes a tangle of deception. We are led to believe that she also deceives herself and in later years must seek counselling, but this does not square with her clear control of events at the time. Her sexual awakening becomes the exploitation of another, despite its beginnings being founded on threat.

Lost In The Forest
is a credible tale. Daisy is a complex character in some ways. In others, she is merely and crudely selfish. Her sister, Emily, drifts in and out of the story, as does her mother Eva, with neither apparently aware of the subterfuge. Eventually, the domestic setting of the book cannot sustain the forensic examination of motive and reaction. These people seem to be obsessed with their own myopic personal relationships to the exclusion of all else. This aspect of the book eventually leads to non-sequitur, since Daisy’s eventual admission of what transpired between her and another of the characters would, in reality, have led to disgrace, perhaps prosecution. But in the book it is only Daisy’s own personal emotional response that figures.

In the final analysis, time passes. We all grow up and we are all a bit older. As Duncan, a family friend and a significant protagonist in the plot, proclaims, “We’re Americans… We don’t want to understand how. We just want to press the button and be happy.” It’s ironic, then, that an entire genre of fiction should have developed to focus on the dysfunctional family and its associated traumas and unhappiness.

Lost In The Forest is a good read. It is highly erotic at times. And it is very much of this self-obsessed genre.

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  • chris

    This is the first review I have read that mentioned what I was looking for. I read many reviews, and not one mentioned that Duncan was never revealed, and was still comfortably ensconced in his marriage and friendships years later. I wonder why so many reviewers have chosen to ignore this fact, which screams to me of a moral dilemma.