Book Review: “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things”

“The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things” (affiliate link) by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk is about a family coping with loss.

Carol and Andrew Bauer’s adult daughter, Jennifer, is missing. She was last seen leaving a New York City club with a man. Andrew, Carol, and their other child, Ben, are coping with her disappearance.

 

Jennifer’s disappearance is an open case. The detective working her case calls Andrew. A body is found. It’s the 24 hours after this discovery that drives “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things.”

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But interspersed with the central story are tellings of the family’s past. We learn about the Bauer children’s upbringing. We get the background on the Bauer parents.

And we discover how Carol, Andrew, and Ben are coping, each in their own way. Internal reflections litter the book as the remaining Bauers ask what may have been.

This third-person novel flips between Ben, Andrew, and Carol. As she’s missing, we do not get Jennifer’s perspective. We do get some insight into her, albeit through memories shared by her family members.

Book Review of “The Special power of restoring lost things”

“The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things” (affiliate link) is in parts a crime novel. It’s also a story about the complexities and intricacies of family. Unfortunately, the book falls short on both accounts.

Early on we’re introduced to her case’s lead detective, Detective Morton. But this character doesn’t develop beyond a stale stereotype. Morton is familiar to anyone who’s watched a TV cop procedural.

As Morton stays opaque, so does the mystery solving element of Jennifer Bauer’s disappearance. There’s no insight into what authorities are doing to find Jennifer. And information related to her disappearance pop into the story in a disjointed manner. You wonder if Mauk even intended for you to try guessing about Jennifer’s fate.

It makes sense that we’re not put into Detective Morton’s investigation. After all, the story’s told from the perspectives of the remaining Bauers. This leads to another significant problem with “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things.”

Drew’s, Jennifer’s dad, is close to being a cliché. His character’s temper and controlling nature are typical of a straight, white male breadwinner. At times, you sense you’re supposed to feel empathy for Drew. But he’s more a cookie cutter character than a real person. 

Perhaps the oddest character is Carol, Jennifer’s mom. Carol copes with Jennifer’s disappearance by donning her daughter’s old clothes. She hits the clubs her daughter once frequented. The reasons for this become clear by the end of the book. Still, it’s hard to accept a fifty-something Upper West Side stay-at-home mom is now a club-going dancer.

Ben, Jennifer’s brother, is the best-developed character in “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things.” Ben’s coping mechanisms are unique and questionable, but, unlike his mother’s, believable.

It’s Ben’s relationship with Sandra, a friend of Jennifer’s, that provides the book’s most intriguing points. The exchanges between Sandra and Ben deliver the most illuminating information about Jennifer. These two are the brightest spot in a story that seems unsure of what it wants to be.

This novel touches on topical issues such as violence toward women and victim blaming. But these subjects are barely scratched. This seems like a missed opportunity by Mauk. “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things” could have made a point about how society treats women.

Instead, we’re left guessing about the theme of the book.

We see how the Bauers struggle to cope and deal with past mistakes. And that may be the point Mauk wants to make in “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things.” Consider how you treat those closest to you because they could be gone in an instant.

On that account, “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things” (affiliate link) fulfills its objective.

Select quotes from “the special power of restoring lost things”

Image of a quote from "The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things" reading "please grant me the special power of restoring lost things, so that I may find peace."

Image of a quote from "The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things" reading "Human choice means very little in the overall scheme of things; the universe acts on its own accord."

Image of a quote from "The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things" reading "What diet are you on? she imagines the mothers asking at PTO. Are you doing SoulCycle? Boot camp? Bikram? No, she’d say. It’s the Missing Daughter Cleanse. You should try it."

other reviews of “the special power of restoring lost things”

The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things Book Cover The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk
Fiction
Little a
October 1, 2016
225

Set against a layered Manhattan landscape, The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things explores a fractured family through the alternating perspectives of the mother, father, and brother of a young woman during the aftermath of her disappearance. A year of silent but collective anguish culminates in the fateful thirty hours after a body with a striking resemblance to hers is found, and we see her buttoned-up Upper West Side family spiral in different, dangerous directions: Her mother, Carol, nearly comatose by day, comes alive at night in a vigilante-like attempt to track down her daughter's killer. Her brother, Ben, once the "good kid," adopts her bad habits along with her former friends who may have been complicit in her death. And after failing to keep his family from splitting apart, her seemingly stoic father, Drew, finally allows himself to crack. In her third novel, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk presents a nuanced character study and offers a jolting and unforgettable portrait of a family's struggle to survive.