Jimmy's Reviews > The Lost Scrapbook

The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara
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's review
Aug 26, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: male, novel, year-1990s

What does it mean to be lost? Towards the beginning of this book, there was a scene where one of our many narrators tells of how he drove off of a highway and further and further into the wilderness. There, he gets out of the car and meets a mysterious man who takes him even further into the forest looking for John Cage-shaped fungus. At a certain point, the narrator realizes that the man was not moving in any methodical fashion, and that they were both completely lost. He musters up the courage to ask the man if he knows where they are.

...We’re right here...
Which, strictly speaking, is the right answer, always the right answer. Wherever you are, there you are! What is it to be lost, except to be without referrent? Without an anchor to an earlier place? But if you didn’t care about that, and only cared about the here and now, then you could not be lost. It reminded me of the movie ‘Inception’ that I watched recently. In it, a character realizes that she is in a dream when she thinks about ‘how did I get here?’. Because in real life, you can always ask that question and there is always an answer. ‘I went to the supermarket after I got off work and after I bought the six pack of beer I hauled ass to Jason’s house because the traffic was already getting worse and I didn’t want to be late for band practice’ could be one such narrative answer to ‘how did I get here?’ But in a dream, often you are just in the middle of band practice without any of the messy leading-up-to-it parts.

Likewise, this novel seems to be composed of many ‘middles’. It’s a book without beginning or end, just an infinity of in-betweens. Are we lost? If the character who got lost in the forest realized that he was lost, it was only because he didn’t know where he was in relation to his Toyota. Just knowing where that one car is stuck makes all the difference between having an entire past life, or being helplessly lost in the world. Just one car is the difference between being lost and knowing exactly where you stand. And phrased in this way, knowing where you are doesn’t sound like a thing that one should be too confident about, as it is only an illusion of narrative, an illusion of ‘how I got here’ that we continue to build in our heads day in day out. Like a little counter we increment every second of our egotistical existence. A thread that is easily lost.


That would have been my 5-star review of this book if it had ended around page 300. The book was a dizzying pastiche of scenes, a collage of visceral experiences that you can’t quite put your finger on. The scenes seemed to revolve around ideas and philosophy rather than plot (Piaget, Chomsky, object permanence, being lost, how the mind works, etc.) And these ideas were presented in a way that didn’t make them seem heavy at all, it was very grounded in real world experiences and believable voices in the heads of different narrators. It was something I had not seen done before in this way, a truly abstract kind of novel of ideas made up of very concrete relatable pieces without being didactic or easily summarizable.

Unfortunately, the book becomes quite simplistic. The pastiche method fragments even further until all you hear are snippets of single paragraphs or single lines forming a kind of Robert Altman-esque collective voice, all somehow relating to the contamination of water in a town called Isaura by a corporation called Ozark. Because it was telling everybody’s story, I didn’t feel like I could relate to any one person’s story, and I suddenly found myself standing outside of the book looking in... a completely different experience than the first half of the book when I really felt in it.

Also, the whole plotline had the bad taste of PC-ness that was way too clean, way too easy. Recently I decided to give the TV show Mad Men a try, since everybody was talking about it. But every scene seemed to be about how a.) women were treated badly back then b.) men were sexist pigs and c.) everybody smoked everywhere *wink* *wink* get it? OK I get it! Now can we say something of substance, something that isn’t blatantly obvious? This constant winking is tiring and manipulative, and I felt the same way with the last half of this book. It seemed so one-tracked in its portrayal of Ozark (and in its expectation of how I should feel about Ozark) that it was boring and predictable.

It’s frustrating to read a book that I’d give 5 stars to the first half and 1 star to the last half. But Evan Dara shows he can write, he is clearly talented. So I’ll be reading more of his stuff, hoping he gets it right next time.
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Reading Progress

August 26, 2010 – Shelved
September 24, 2011 – Started Reading
September 25, 2011 –
page 240
50.42% "that the little academic linguist should stick to tending his grammatical garden, where he has some expertise, and not if, and, or but into affairs that he can not possibly comprehend..."
September 26, 2011 –
page 307
64.5% "-- I've always had remarkable powers of self-empathy, if you know what I mean... -- Yeah, I said: sometimes feel the same way myself..."
September 29, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Nate D (last edited Sep 30, 2011 10:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nate D Strange, it hadn't really occurred to me that after refusing specialization and staying-on-topic in the very first fragment, Dara totally renounces and hones in on his single topic for the last third of the book. I didn't mind the preachiness of the end, though, nearly as much the cigarrete publicity guy, though. At least the ending seemed to be trying to show that though the corporation was unscrupulous, anything it did was pretty much entirely facilitated by the town and decades of american life, which isn't an entirely unnuanced idea.

Jimmy Oh yeah, I forgot about the cigarette bit. That wasn't the high point of it for me either.

For me, the main idea in the last 200 pages was not nuanced enough to be interesting. Yes, it's more complicated than simply 'the corporation is evil' but ultimately that's what it is! Either that, or society that produced the corporation is evil/implicated in the evil also. Still, I was left totally unsatisfied by this rather obvious message.

I liked the way you put it in your review: "something extremely undergraduate about the way the topics are grabbed at". That's how I'd describe it too, but it didn't bother me in the first half perhaps because it was more the interaction/transition between the ideas that kept me interested...

Nate D Agreed. Though I think I said I liked the sense of focus towards the end in my own review, the actual level of discourse, in retrospect, certianly most embodied that undergraduate quality.

Ha, later I'll probably find out that Dara is a pseudonym of a 70-year-old sociologist or something and feel like a jerk for reducing a life-time of gathered ideas to this. Alternatively: I'll find out that Dara wrote this as an actual undergraduate. And still feel like a jerk for complaining about it.

Jimmy Jerk!

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