The Loss of All Lost Things by Amina Gautier

Amina Gautier’s short story collection was sent to me by fellow blogger Bill Wolfe at Read Her Like An Open Book. Although it sounds ridiculous, I accidentally won a copy when I commented on a book review blog post about this collection. Knowing I wouldn’t have time to read Gautier’s book this year, I passed it on to my talented former student, Jennifer Vosters. Jennifer previously reviewed Tides and This Time, While We’re Awake at Grab the Lapels. Please welcome Jennifer back — her review is below!

Amina Gautier’s 2016 short story collection (Elixer Press), named for the third piece in the mix, is aptly titled The Loss of All Lost Things: fifteen stories of varying lengths, all chronicle different (yet noticeably similar) experiences of loss and the “losers” who must live with it, losers familiar enough to haunt us when we look in the mirror. In The Loss of All Lost Things, one gets a sneaking suspicion that Gautier is writing not just about “everyday people” but her readers themselves, their families, their neighbors, with grim precision. And while one must admire Gautier’s unflinching insight, it’s enough to inspire some measure of discomfort, even discouragement, after a long reading session. In such a long collection rife with pain and failure and distance, the reader wears out before the writer does.

Perhaps, rather than “short stories,” a more accurate description of Gautier’s work would be “snapshots,” because the author has an uncanny ability to make readers feel that we’re given privileged access into a slice of a person’s private life: that messy, borderless thing that often comes without clear arcs or conclusions or epiphanies — making it all the more beautiful when a real one comes along. The gems of this collection are when Gautier seems to have concentrated on doing precisely that: “The Loss of All Lost Things,” “Resident Lover,” “Cicero Waiting,” and “Most Honest” stood out for their honesty, sharpness, and tautness, almost photographic and with no words wasted. These read effortlessly, as if all it took to get the words down was a click of the shutter. There was none of the heavy-handedness that slackened some of her more obvious attempts to shock or to preach (“Lost and Found” and “Disturbance” were two of these).

Gautier wins when her prose is delicate, focused, and restrained, and when her characters speak for themselves rather than for her. The pieces flounder when she tries a little too hard to get a point across, such as in her attempt at dystopia in “Disturbance,” which in addition to being heavily expository also passed glaring judgment on current events with very little subtlety.


As a whole, the collection’s primary fault is really being too long… or, rather, too unvaried for the number of stories and pages it spans. Within the fifteen thematically linked stories, Gautier returns again and again to searing losses that with repeated exposure somehow become dull. (Whether they lose their vigor because these repetitive losses are so enormous or in spite of it, I am not sure.) Failed marriages, abducted children, and empty relationships appear and reappear like characters in a continuing saga, except we do not learn new things about them with each cameo. Gautier compounds this sense of déjà vu by putting the majority of her main characters in the same career field (higher education, which also happens to be the author’s) and the same dissatisfied-to-the-point-of-depressed tone that weighs on a reader’s mind — and concentration — after a while.

Yet Gautier does something in a few of these pieces that seems increasingly rare in literary fiction: she allows for a small ray of hope. Not always, not everywhere, but in a choice few stories she opens the possibility of healing, to keep her work from delivering a damning and robotic prognosis of recovery after loss. Even better? The hope is a hint, a whisper, not enough to undermine the tragedy of the rest of the work, but just enough to cling to as an alternative to the otherwise bleak picture of damaged existence she paints over and over.

Despite the repetition, there are enough beautiful moments and interesting characters — and a tender, brutal honesty that may be Gautier’s signature — in The Loss of All Lost Things to make the collection worth reading. My advice? Read each story individually, carefully, with time to digest between. Because as a collection, The Loss of All Lost Things can drag; story by story, it stings (and you’ll like it).

Jennifer Vosters is a 2016 alumna of Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, where she studied English, Theatre, and Italian. She is currently working as an actor in Milwaukee and excitedly diving into the sizable reading list she’s compiled over the last four years.


  1. I haven’t read any short story collections—minus the exception of a handful of Stephen King ones in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams—but I’ve been looking to. Although as a whole this collection drags, I’m intrigued to check out these stories individually. With this review, however, I know not to go with overly high expectations.

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    • She was an amazing writer when she was a freshman, and I’m so glad I’ve kept up with her over the years! You’ve NEVER read a short story collection? I could recommend some if you let me know what kinds of stories you’re into. Coming out of an MFA program, I quickly learned that almost all the graduates write short story collections because that’s what we have time to write, so that’s what we tend to read/study.

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        • Here are some recommendations. You can look up the summaries on Goodreads! I included all the dark, controversial ones I could think of. I have a bunch of collections I could recommend that are funny as hell, but I wanted to address your request first.

          How They Spend Their Sundays by Courtney McDermott

          Nights I Dreamed of Hubert Humphrey by Daniel Mueller

          Short Tails by Yuriy Tarnawsky

          For Sale By Owner by Kelcey Parker (you might really like this one, as it has to do with kids and moms and domesticity)

          Autopsy of an Engine by Lolita Hernandez

          Transparency by Frances Hwang

          Prayers of an Accidental Nature by Debra DiBlasi

          Baby and Other Stories by Paula Bomer (very disturbing)

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          • Oooo thank you for the recommendations!!! I do love a good laugh too… For Sale By Owner sounds like it would be very relatable!

            I read the synopsis for Baby and Other Stories, but I didn’t get the “disturbing” vibe from the blurb… I am glad you mentioned that as I tend to be pretty sensitive to anything that deals with children (abuse & neglect)

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            • The mom often hates what her children do to her mentally. Stories star women who probably shouldn’t have been moms (or are just very, very honest with themselves regarding motherhood and its huge challenges) and think very bad thoughts. I can’t remember if anyone acts on them, though… it’s been a few years since I’ve read the whole collection.

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  2. How wonderful to have guest reviewers on your blog for when you’re busy! And such great ones too.
    I won this book in a giveaway a few months ago, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I have read many short story collections this year and want to keep reading more. When I get to this one, I will be sure to read it slowly, perhaps at one story a day, and savor them individually.

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