Review: The Loss of All Lost Things by Amina Gautier

Short story writer Amina Gautier has won not one but three different publishing contests throughout her career, including the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and the Elixir Press Fiction Award for her most recent collection, “The Loss of All Lost Things.” This latest work proves, once again, why she’s worthy of so many accolades.

The stories in this collection are tight, focused snapshots of lives in various stages of loss: loss of confidence, of vision, of a child, a marriage. And while the topics can be heavy, after reading the stories together what emerges is not a sense of defeat but hope. Because, after all, “things that are lost can be found.”

In “Cicero Waiting” a man and his wife take teaching jobs at a boarding school after the murder of their 3-year-old daughter. The man blames himself for his daughter’s fate and throws himself into his work as a classics teacher to keep his memories at bay, causing his marriage — and his sense of self — to become strained. The story ends on a poignant note, and is strengthen by Gautier’s careful weaving of a metaphor throughout the story (the devastation of Pompeii), creating a deep, further complication.

Gautier employs this technique occasionally throughout the collection — with mixed results. The metaphor in “A Brief Pause,” for example, falls flat: the story of a husband and wife struggling to clean out a dead relatives’ apartment feels cheapened by the comparison to a college admissions specialist issuing rejections.

But these small missteps don’t detract from the power of the collections overall. Gautier’s stories are tight, every-word-counts, stories that pack plenty of emotional depth into a few short pages, making these a fast, satisfying read for anyone who has lost something, and for those of us seeking to be found.