Lost Children Archive is a complex novel involving sensory perception through sound and echo. The novel focuses on a family of four—husband, wife, boy girl. No names.
Husband and wife met four years before the story begins, when they were recording a soundscape together in New York City. They were part of a large team of people working for New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. The project was intended “to sample and collect all the keynotes and the soundmarks that were emblematic of the city…The two were paired up and given the task of recording all the languages spoken in the city, over a period of four calendar years.”
At the start of the novel the NYU project has ended and the couple is each deciding on a new project. The husband has a 10 year old son from a prior marriage. His wife has died and that is all we know. The wife has a five year old daughter from a relationship. The wife is partly (or wholly) of Mexican descent. And that is also all we know. Standing in line at her daughter’s school, the wife meets Manuela, whose two older daughters have crossed the border into America and are being held in a detention center. The wife decides that her next project will be to create a sound documentary about the children’s crisis at the border.
In the meantime, the husband has decided that he wants to do a sound project on the Apaches, which would require him to move from New York City to the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. Thus begins a road trip. Husband fills four bankers boxes (Boxes I, II, III and IV) with information to take on the trip. Wife fills Box V. Girl has Box VI (it is empty) and Boy has Box VII (also empty).
Each box is to serve as an archive. “The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? Or will it be sound rubble, noise, and debris?” Before the family leaves New York City, wife gives Boy a polaroid camera which he uses to photograph events throughout the trip (once he figures out how to use it).
Through the three week drive, father tells stories of the Apaches and they stop at historical sites. Mother takes calls from Manuela and listens to news stories about the refugee crisis. It is all very disturbing. At one point, the family stops at an airstrip in New Mexico where refugee children are being flown out of the country. The boy and the girl refer to the refugee children as the Lost Children.
Husband and wife differ in how they relate to sound. He just listens; her style is more journalistic. They joke that she was a documentarist while he was a documentarian, which meant that “I was more like a chemist and he was more like a librarian.” As the trip progresses it becomes clear that those differences are irreconcilable and that husband and wife will split at the end. “How do you fill the emotional voids that appear when there are sudden, unexpected shifts.”
Wife has a book called the Elegies, which are stories of refugee children traveling to the border. The stories stick with the children. In addition, there is a lot of discussion of sound and echoes.
At the Burro Mountains, the family rents a cottage. While the parents are sleeping the boy decides that he and the girl should leave and search for the lost children, and then find their way through the desert to Echo Mountain. His thought process was deeply influenced by the adult’s obsessions. “Ma would start thinking of us the way she thought of them, the lost children. All the time and with all her heart. And Pa would focus on finding our echoes, instead of all the other echoes he was chasing…Ma and Pa would have to find us.” The children’s solo travels are paralleled by addition elegies.
At different stages of the book the wife opens and catalogues each box. At the end, the reader is treated to each polaroid taken during the trip. The first part of the book is narrated by the wife, the runaway by the Boy and the elegies by a third party. The children’s walk through the desert is described in one 19 page sentence. The book focuses on the child refugee crisis, the distancing of husband and wife and the impact of everything on the children. The book is complex, creative and literary. The author’s notes at the end clarify many of the references. The novel is beautiful, but it is difficult both in its density and its substance. It can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Library by clicking here.