Under the Cover: The Lost Expert
Author Hal Niedzviecki relates a family canoe trip gone awry with his latest novel The Lost Expert (Cormorant Books)—about a movie star that goes missing—and the necessity of getting lost in order to know yourself.
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Last summer I took the kids on what they like to call, with finger quotes and grim smiles, “one of our adventures.” Canoe strapped to the car, we drove slowly down a dirt road sloping past heavy forest and finally came to what I thought was the boat launch I’d marked on our map.
It was the wrong spot.
We’d paddled for at least four hours by the time I realized my mistake. Our arms ached and the sun beat down on our shoulders. The youngest kid was lying on our packs watching the blue sky go by. The oldest was gamely struggling on through a strong wind that meant we couldn’t stop even if we wanted to.
I pointed out that we should have found our campsite by now. I gently opined that we might have put in at the wrong place.
“You mean we’re lost?” Younger child asked, a timbre of fear in her voice.
“We’re not lost,” Older child pointed out.
“But we don’t know where we are!” Younger child protested.
They were both right. I just kept paddling.
In my novel The Lost Expert, a movie star is lost. Or is he missing? A feckless waiter takes over his role. He also goes missing—from his rapidly receding life. In the movie, the waiter stars as a (sort of) superhero with the power to find lost people. Until the superhero also gets lost.
It’s the kind of book that you can get lost in. At least I hope it is.
I got so lost writing the book that I honestly didn’t think I would find my way out. Just like the canoe trip gone awry, I was in a quandary of my own making: Was I lost lost, lost for real? And if I was, what should I do about it? Panic? The book turns on that question: Are you lost, or just purposely missing? What if you don’t know yourself?
My characters veered between Toronto, Northern Ontario and Lost Angeles. Places familiar and unfamiliar. I pushed them into swamps and led them down alleys, trying to figure out what they would do. These ghost people I’d conjured out of nothing—looking for touchstones, signs, guideposts, markers of some invisible trail.
Then a summer epiphany. Being lost is as much a matter of the soul as it is a matter of geography and survival skills. To really know who you are, you have to get lost. But in getting lost, you are taking the ultimate risk. The risk isn’t that you won’t be found. It’s that you’ll be found and still feel lost. Out on the lake, paddling desperately to a destination possibly still several hours away, I saw my characters and their myriad quests in a completely different way.
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Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, speaker, culture commentator and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life. He is the author of eleven books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Archaeologists, which was shortlisted for the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher. Niedzviecki is also the founder and publisher of Broken Pencil: The magazine of zine culture and the independent arts. He lives in Toronto, ON with his wife, two daughters, and the family animal.
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