Helen, a tenured physics MIT professor, disdains notions of the supernatural in favor of rational thought and proven ideas. So it's perhaps especially vexing for her when, on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday in June, she gets a phone call from a friend who has just died.
In Lost and Wanted... Nell Freudenberger joins this august tradition [of integrating sceitific concepts into literature], expanding her stock of metaphors with the language of quantum physics. The effect is beautiful. Freudenberger navigates complicated concepts from physics with admirable clarity, and those concepts — entanglement, uncertainty, gravitational waves — help us feel in new ways the ongoing influence of dormant friendships, the difficulties involved with believing in attachments that can’t be observed, the enduring pull of discarded hopes. In Freudenberger’s hands, long scientific digressions — about the search for the Higgs boson, the existence of dark matter, the collisions of black holes — never feel unnecessary. For one thing, they’re described in splendidly accessible language. For another, our narrator, Helen, is a professor of physics, and this is how she understands the world ... Lost and Wanted is a novel of female friendship without the furious intimacy of, say, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels ... Reading [this novel], I was moved by intimacies near and far, real and imagined, lost and found in all the echoing corners of the expanding universe.
... Freudenberger has crafted a gorgeous literary novel about loss and human limitations ... [A passage included in the review] is a miniature model of Freudenberger’s dazzling writing style in Lost and Wanted ... That [one of the novel's] plot [twists] doesn’t feel contrived or melt into a gooey resolution further demonstrates Freudenberger’s penetrating imagination ... Lost and Wanted ends with its own ingenious version of a 'big bang' that leaves the Helen, our dedicated woman of science, a bit more open to the tantalizing promise of that theological designation.
Nell Freudenberger excels at one of fiction's singular strengths — imaginative empathy without borders ... Freudenberger takes another impressive plunge into a different sort of foreign culture: theoretical physics ... Yes, Freudenberger throws a lot of esoteric, sometimes numbing jargon at us. But rest assured that much of it gets translated into more comprehensible terms — and bears more than just metaphoric relevance to her story ... Impressively, Freudenberger avoids a heavy hand in drawing analogies between emotional states and abstruse scientific concepts, taking care to deploy physics as a catalyst for new perspectives on time and our trajectories through it rather than just metaphorical ballast. Enriched by intelligent, multi-level discussions about the spacetime continuum, determinism, whether Einstein believed in God, and cosmic concepts such as entanglements, collisions, interference patterns, uncertainty, and gravity — including, most notably, the force we exert on each other — Lost and Wanted is an undoubtedly brainy book. But Freudenberger's outstanding achievement is that it is also a moving story about down-to-earth issues like grief and loneliness.