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The End of Getting Lost

A Novel

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About The Book

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Margaret Qualley and Paul Mescal!

A young woman and her husband travel around Europe to celebrate their first year of marriage—a year that the woman has no memory of—in this “wildly beautiful and darkly sinister” (Rosamund Lupton, New York Times bestselling author of Sister) novel of intimacy and deceit.

The year is 1996—a time before cell phones, status updates, and location tags—when you could still travel to a remote corner of the world and disappear. This is where we meet Gina and Duncan, a young couple madly in love, traveling around Europe on a romantic adventure. It’s a time both thrilling and dizzying for Gina, whose memories are hazy following a head injury—and the growing sense that the man at her side is keeping secrets from her.

Just what is Duncan hiding and how far will he go to keep their pasts at bay? As the pair hop borders across Europe, their former lives threatening to catch up with them while the truth grows more elusive, we witness how love can lead us astray, and what it means to lose oneself in love.

The End of Getting Lost is a tightrope act of deception and an elegant exploration of love and marriage—as well as our cherished illisions of both. With notes of Patricia Highsmith, Caroline Kepnes, and Lauren Groff, Robin Kirman has spun an “atmospheric, lyrical” (Susie Yang, New York Times bestselling author of White Ivy) tale of deceit, redemption, and the fight to keep love alive—no matter the costs.

Excerpt

Chapter One: Gina // Lake Walen One Gina // Lake Walen
June 1996

It was the end of getting lost—a moment when travel could still feel like taking leave of the familiar, before there were ten different means for a person to be reached in almost any corner of the world in which she might be standing, when letters and postcards would still follow slowly on the heels of a young couple moving across Europe, and two people in love could escape their old reality a little, experiencing the world before them like a shared dream.

The year was 1996, the month June, when Gina and Duncan arrived at the Walensee, a lake less than an hour’s drive from the clinic near Zurich where she had spent the past two weeks. She’d come there to recuperate from a head injury she’d suffered from a bad fall in Berlin. The injury hadn’t been a small one, rehabilitation was required, but now that Gina was well enough to do without doctors and nurses, she and Duncan had escaped to the Swiss countryside. The scenery around Lake Walen was possibly the loveliest and most peaceful that she had ever seen: small villages of white, red-roofed houses, lush fields of wildflowers and, across the still, blue water, green mountains topped with milky clouds. They’d spent three days there in a small guesthouse, hiking and biking among the villages, or boating on the lake. Duncan didn’t usually swim, and the lake water was cold, but Gina liked to jump in anyway in the hours when the sun was strongest. After she’d tired herself with laps, and as the light began to weaken, she’d leave the water to go inside and dress, and then they’d bring their chairs down to the grassy banks to take in the sky and lake, lit pink and gold by the setting sun.

During this quiet hour, Duncan, who was a classical composer, listened to music with headphones on his Discman, and, beside him, Gina read—Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, which Duncan had bought her that week as a gift. He’d been aware a Zurich clinic featured in the story, otherwise under the impression that it was a romance about a glamorous American couple traveling in Europe. The day after Duncan gave Gina the book, her doctor at the clinic had remarked on the Swiss sanatorium, and Gina had been forced to tell Duncan that it wasn’t a happy story, that the wife in the novel was mentally ill.

“Oh God, forget it, then,” Duncan had pleaded, but she’d made clear that reading it didn’t upset her. On the contrary, it soothed her to return to a novel that she’d read before and remembered—in better detail than she possessed regarding her own recent life.

In the last weeks, Gina had often felt like she was crazy—though the doctors in the hospital in West Berlin and at the Zurich clinic had made clear that what she’d experienced was entirely a physical trauma. She’d suffered a concussion and intracranial swelling, and no one could predict what sort of recovery she’d make. The consensus by the end was that she’d been lucky. Her sight and hearing were normal and she had no speech difficulties, no aphasia. Her mind was sharp, her reasoning was good, and her moods were stable. Her dizzy spells were now gone, her balance and motor coordination perfectly restored. In fact, only two weeks after her injury, she was taking runs through the Swiss woods.

The only significant loss in functioning involved her memory. She couldn’t recall anything of the accident or of the months leading up to her trip. Beyond that, there were stretches of experience that remained missing, which she didn’t know she missed—her dance performances that year, the departure from New York of their two close friends—until Duncan would refer to these and nothing would come to mind.

At the same time, there were also many things that she did remember that before she’d forgotten. It was as if her mind had been shaken during the impact, and material that had been buried cast up to the top again. Scenes from her childhood, for instance, a trip she’d taken with her parents to Italy when her mother was still healthy. Gina could see her mother quite clearly, as she’d looked on that visit—in a white dress walking barefoot on the beach, her dark curls to her shoulders, her smile wide and bright as the pale sand—looking, Gina realized with a pang, very much the way she herself looked now.

Her recent brush with death had brought her closer to her late mother, and closer too to Duncan, who had hardly left her side since the accident, except to see that she received the best possible care. Unimpressed with the medical standard in Berlin, where she’d been hospitalized first, he’d proposed moving her to the clinic just outside of Zurich, where the techniques for physical rehabilitation were more advanced. Gina was a dancer, he let the doctor know, and therefore required special treatment.

The Swiss clinic had been state of the art, and during her stay there, Gina often wondered how all this would be paid for. She had a hefty inheritance from her mother, but Duncan had always refused to touch it and insisted she keep it in an account separate from him. He preferred to live frugally from what they earned, though in this case he insisted on sparing no expense.

“I’d pay any amount to have you back as you were again.”

She’d grasped then how much the prospect of losing her had undone him. In some ways, her accident had been even more frightening for Duncan, as the only one who could recall it.

She’d asked him, once, to describe that day for her: They’d been in Berlin almost a week when Gina set off for a morning walk around the city. Duncan would have joined her, but that morning he’d been struck with musical inspiration he wanted to get down onto paper. As Duncan worked, morning turned to afternoon, and Gina still hadn’t returned. He was beginning to grow nervous when the phone rang in his room. A hotel receptionist was calling to relay a message from a local hospital. Gina had suffered an accident.

Duncan had rushed over to the address that he’d been given: the Charité Hospital on Luisenstrasse. There, the doctor presiding over Gina’s case told him what had happened, that Gina had been found at a construction site at Potsdamer Platz. It seemed she’d gone poking around one of the sections that was off-limits and that she’d slipped along the way and hit her head on a piece of exposed pipe. Tourists had discovered her, unconscious, and called an ambulance. Inside her pocket was a hotel key with her room number, and this was how she’d been identified and Duncan had been reached. Her prognosis was still uncertain then; the doctors didn’t know what state she’d be in when she awoke.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Duncan told her. “I lived it in that hospital that night, life without you. You were gone.”

In moments when she caught him looking at her, she could see that this was true—he seemed not to trust that she was real, as though at any instant she might disappear.

“Still here,” she’d tease him, smiling reassuringly, but hiding her private thoughts—she was mostly there, sure, but what parts of her were lost?

She’d asked Duncan to fill in any large events of the last year. He insisted her life had gone on much as before. She’d continued dancing with the same experimental company, and Duncan continued to play piano there to accompany rehearsals. They collaborated on their own work: Duncan composed music and she choreographed dances to go with it. The biggest change was that Duncan had landed his first significant commission, which enabled them to afford this trip, their belated honeymoon. She and Duncan had been married for over a year; they were the only couple that had married among their young friends. But since then, they hadn’t been able to find the time or funds for such a frivolous excursion. And now, here they were.

Their travels, Duncan told her, were to last the whole summer, starting in Berlin and moving west. They’d planned on heading to either Munich or Vienna, but they’d changed their minds on the day that Gina was released from the clinic in Zurich, after they’d sat down in a café and she’d noticed a discarded International Herald Tribune left behind on a chair. America was gearing up for an election in the fall: Clinton against Dole. In Russia, the first presidential election was also underway, with Boris Yeltsin struggling to maintain power. Also that spring, Bosnian war criminals were ordered by the UN to stand trial; a bombing by the IRA in Manchester had injured two hundred people, and, back in America, a man named Ted Kaczynski had been identified as the Unabomber and indicted. As Gina read, her heart started to thud—the sheer breadth of what she’d missed, the many events unfolding that she knew nothing about. After that, they’d agreed on stopping at Lake Walen: a place with no one around to prompt her thoughts besides a landlady who came to drop fresh daffodils inside their room, a place where it was easy to forget the larger world, and so forget what she’d forgotten.

Now, on their fourth and last day here, she and Duncan planned on renting the landlady’s car to visit the Churfirsten mountains, where they would hike to the Paxmal, the famous monument to peace.

They left after breakfast and drove out to the bottom of the mountain to begin the long, steep hike. The way up was difficult, and Gina found herself thinking of the man who’d made this trek on his own hundreds of times in order to construct the monument: a rectangular stone building with thick columns, a reflecting pool in front, and, along each side of the pool, stone walls decorated with mosaics. According to the guidebook, all this work had been accomplished by a single artist, and had taken him twenty-five years of grueling effort. The story moved Gina—the solitude in which this man maintained his vision. She wrapped her arms around Duncan and leaned into him, holding him tight. She’d always longed for an artistic life, but feared its loneliness. What a gift to have Duncan, her husband and a composer, a man she could both love and create with, sharing in beauty together.

The hike down the mountain was quicker, but still, by the time she and Duncan returned to the guesthouse for lunch, it was quarter past two. The cook was upset over having to put out food so late, since lunch service, she reminded them, was officially meant to end at two.

“I guess it’s not just a cliché,” Duncan muttered under his breath, “the Swiss and time.”

As a punishment, the cook brought out the same food she’d served for lunch the day before: reheated salmon and potatoes.

As Gina picked at a spongy bit of potato, Duncan pushed his plate away. “Forget this, we’ve got the car all night. Let’s drive somewhere and get a real meal.”

After the lunch, which the cook frowned to see they hadn’t eaten, they stopped at the reception desk so that Duncan could tell the owner of the guesthouse, Ms. Arner, that they wouldn’t be around for dinner.

“I think my wife and I could use a night out.”

My wife. The description sounded alien to Gina; wife and husband were terms they’d used only in private, when they didn’t need to hide how much those archaic, yet still fresh, titles thrilled them.

They returned to their room, where Gina pointed out that there was enough sun left for a swim. At the lake, Duncan splashed around up to his waist, while Gina jumped in with a shout and swam laps in the cold water for as long as she could stand it.

When she emerged, shivering in the last rays of sun, Duncan was waiting for her with a towel. He wrapped himself around her, containing the warmth between them. When he spoke, chest pressed to her bare back, his words seemed to vibrate within her. “This might be the happiest that I’ve ever been.”

Around six they started getting ready. Duncan whistled as he dressed in a yellow linen suit that he’d gotten before they left Zurich. He hadn’t brought many clothes with him on the trip, preferring to travel light, picking up what he needed as they went. Gina put on a blue dress, then searched for the silk satchel that contained her jewelry.

Inside, there wasn’t much: a pair of diamond earrings that she’d received from her grandparents at her high school graduation, an anklet she’d bought in college, on a trip into the city with her best friend, Violet. Her most cherished piece was a ring she’d been given by her mother, a yellow stone, not precious, but exotic: it had functioned as an engagement ring until Duncan could afford a proper one—what little money they had they’d spent on simple bands. Hers hung a little loosely on her finger, she’d noticed; apparently she’d lost some weight from the stress her injury had caused her.

Feeling around in the satchel for her mother’s ring, she found a chain caught among some threads at the bottom. She pulled it out: a silver bracelet with a turquoise stone at the center. It must be from her father or other family in Santa Fe, she thought, but when she turned the piece over, she noticed an inscription on the back: For My Love.

“Did you give this to me?” she asked Duncan, thinking that he knew her taste too well to choose a piece that was so bland.

He laid the bracelet in his palm and took note of the inscription. “It’s from an aunt of yours. Some sort of family heirloom.”

Could she have forgotten such a thing? She felt a moment of unease at her failure to recall, but told herself not to dwell on such details. Did she really need to know the story behind every small object in her possession—the countless bits of information that we all carry with us and let shape, in some cluttered and arbitrary way, our sense of who we are? There was something freeing in forgetting, she’d discovered, as if all these tiny accretions were like layers of clothing that kept you from feeling the air, the night, the life that was cloaked around you.

She looked over at Duncan, seeing him almost freshly then, with the years together stripped away, revealing the qualities she loved in him: his gentleness, his intelligence, his delicate dark features and the green eyes that always had a slightly distracted look about them, like he was listening to some inner song only he could hear.

He turned to take her arm then, and she stepped out into the cool Swiss evening, with the sounds of crickets and lapping water and a man beside her with a mild voice and smiling face who’d stood by her and loved her since she was nineteen.

The drive to the restaurant wasn’t an easy one. The roads were dark and curving, the signs difficult to spot. She and Duncan had to pull over twice to consult a map before locating the simple stone building with a restaurant in the back. The room was rustic but elegant, with exposed wooden beams, red tablecloths, and candles.

Duncan pulled out Gina’s seat for her and, as she thanked him, she almost called him by the wrong name. “Graham—” she began, and stopped herself, puzzling.

Before she could remark on it, Duncan rushed to speak. “Supposed to be classic Swiss cooking, this place.”

“I don’t think I know what that is.”

“Well, the guidebook says we need to get the cholera.”

“Like the disease?”

“Exactly.” He described for her what he’d read: “During the epidemic, since people were afraid to leave their homes, they’d throw everything into a pie.”

“Desperation casserole.” She laughed, and she could see how much it pleased him, since the accident, to see her having fun.

They turned to study the menu and Gina noted the prices. “Duncan, it’s too expensive.”

“Oh, it’s fine. One plate of cholera won’t kill us.”

“I’m serious. The way we’ve been spending, and we’ve still got months ahead—”

“We’re fine,” he insisted, and reached across for her hand, just as the waiter stepped up to pour their water and describe the evening’s specials. Gina tried to listen, to let her concerns go, though she couldn’t quite believe that Duncan, who’d worked sometimes for free as a composer, had suddenly been paid enough to afford all this. As she wondered, she became aware of another distraction: a man was watching her from across the room. She looked away, concentrating on her order, but when the waiter left, the man was still staring. He was heavyset, with receding white hair and a pink face.

Meanwhile, Duncan had begun to speak about their itinerary. “Plus, later in the summer it will be packed, which is another reason to start there.”

“What’s that?”

“The South of France.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t listening,” she admitted, and, leaning forward, added more softly, “There’s a man over there who keeps looking at me. Do we know him? In the corner, with the white hair.”

Duncan turned in his chair to check, and Gina saw the man lower his eyes.

“Never seen him. But he looks pretty harmless to me.”

After a moment, the man went back to staring, and Gina began to fidget in her seat. She’d been out in public so little since her accident, and some of the effects of her injury had made her self-conscious. She felt a sudden urge to study herself in a mirror, so she stood and told Duncan she was heading to the bathroom.

In the mirror above the sink, she confronted a woman of twenty-five, her curly auburn hair cut shorter than she recalled wearing it, which made her look younger than she was. Nothing showed of her injury but the remnants of a scrape across one cheekbone. She smiled, just to make sure her smile was even, as it had not been in the first days at the hospital. This small change, temporary as it proved to be, had terrified her. She’d found herself thinking of her mother—after her stroke, her smile had never been the one in the pictures from before.

When Gina stepped out into the dining room again, Duncan wasn’t at their table. She spotted him in the corner, speaking with the man who’d been staring at her. Catching her eye, Duncan abruptly excused himself to meet her back at their table, settling into his seat just as she settled into hers.

“Did you find out who he is?” she asked him.

“A German tourist. He said he’d seen you performing in Vienna.”

“Really?” She supposed it was possible: she had spent two summers in Vienna, dancing for an international festival, though her parts hadn’t been large ones. “I’m surprised anyone would notice a single dancer in a group.”

I’d have noticed you,” said Duncan, smiling.

The food arrived. Gina had ordered the pastetli, a meat pie, which she no longer felt like eating. She was agitated, suddenly, restless in her chair. Her first Vienna tour, as magical as it had been, had also directly preceded her mother’s death. She’d had the call from her father about her mother’s final, fatal stroke a week before she was due to return home.

She felt a sudden pang—homesickness, she thought. Now and then she’d had the impulse to call her father, though Duncan had reminded her of the risks involved in that. Her father was bound to panic at the news of the accident. After his wife’s stroke, Mr. Reinhold never remarried. Gina became his everything. It would terrify him to learn his only child, so far from home, had suffered a brain injury of all things, and, even if her not calling might cause him worry too, nothing could be worse than his reliving some version of her mother’s decline, noting minor gaps in Gina’s awareness, or some way in which she might fail to be the person that she’d been before.

“Are you all right?” Duncan asked, peering up from his plate.

“I’m fine.” She saw no point in spoiling things with her grim thoughts. “Go on with what you were saying.”

“Our itinerary.” Duncan hesitated but, after a short pause, went on. “I’d been thinking France, I guess, along the Riviera. There are some quieter spots, and better to visit now than in July or August, when the whole region is packed. Plus I speak French, so we can navigate more easily. What do you think?”

She hadn’t given much thought to their travels, though now that Vienna had been mentioned, she felt she’d like to go there again. And she’d intended to drop in too on her friend Violet, in Prague.

“If we’re heading west, doesn’t it make sense to visit Vienna and Prague first? I’d like to visit Violet for a day or two at least.”

Duncan raised his glass quickly, and wine spilled onto his upper lip. “You don’t remember what happened with you two? That argument you had?”

No, she didn’t have the slightest recollection of any fight with her best friend, though it wasn’t inconceivable that it could happen. She and Violet both had strong opinions, about their work and about Duncan—whom Violet had never liked—and it was a function of their loyalty to one another that they hadn’t butted heads more often. “When did we fight?”

“It was after she’d moved to Prague. Over the phone. I guess she’d been dismissive about a piece I’d written. Nothing new, but this time she’d gone too far and you were really shouting, said you’d had it, you were done with her.”

Violet putting down Duncan was plausible enough, though Gina didn’t see much point in staying angry when she’d forgotten why she was.

“In that case, I think I should definitely call her. Take the chance to repair things while I’m here.”

Duncan took a bite of his casserole and chewed it before responding. “Right, sure you should. Though I don’t see any reason to put yourself under pressure right away. Plus, Prague isn’t a simple place to get around, so maybe better to start with Vienna?”

She pictured Vienna then, recalled the nights she’d spent there on her first visit. She and her fellow dancers had performed at the Volkstheater, a grand building on the corner of Arthur-Schnitzler-Platz, stretching out backward, like a crouching animal. There were two tiers of columns at the entrance, but the relative modesty of the exterior gave little hint of what lay inside: red velvet seats and curtains, crystal chandeliers, a fresco on the ceiling. Perhaps it was the sheer beauty of the place that caused her to put more into her dancing in Vienna than she ever had before. Her limbs felt more powerful, her instincts freer. She’d had the thought that this was her apotheosis, the moment when her talent as a dancer reached its peak, and she would look back on those nights, years later, and recall that fleeting bliss.

“Yes, right. I think Vienna would do me good.”

“Great, then we’re decided.”

Duncan clinked his glass against hers and Gina took a sip of wine. Soon she began to relax, to enjoy the food, the cozy room—until the man who’d been staring at her before rose from his table. She watched him lay his napkin down, squeeze by another diner, and make his way toward her. For a moment, she thought the stranger might say something, but when she looked up he turned away, disappearing out the door into the darkness.

The next morning, a vision struck Gina as she woke from sleep. She was in a gallery, in a white and airy space, with paintings on the walls. She crossed the room and came to stand in front of a portrait of Duncan and herself. This was a painting her father had done of them for their wedding. She stood there, facing the portrait, in an atmosphere of sadness, and then a tall, sandy-haired man stepped up alongside her. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear that made her start.

She sat up sharply, there in the bed she shared with Duncan. He was awake, looking at her.

“A bad dream?” he asked her, rubbing her back.

“No, just a thought… nothing.” She lay back down beside him and felt his hand stroke her thigh under the sheet.

He’d been especially hungry for sex since the accident, and she’d been too, maybe for the connection it gave her to him, or the grounding in her own body. She was young and healthy, alive, his touch reminded her, and she curled under him as he began to kiss her, her cheeks, her neck, lifting up her top to bare her stomach.

She looked down at him, at his smooth shoulders, that transfixed expression he always wore when he was aroused, moving in a daze but deliberately, a mood of sex he’d absorbed from her, years ago, but which had since become a state evolved together—their style of movement, their patient tangles. Arching up over her, he reached for the nightstand drawer. She drew him back to her.

He hesitated, about to say something, until she reached for him by the hips and drew him inside her. She looked him in the eyes so he could read her desire, then pulled him closer so that his face was at her ear and she could hear the sounds he made, deep and adult one moment and in the next just like the eager boy who’d been almost a virgin when she first led him to her bed.

“I love you,” he told her after, dropping behind her and pressing her up against him so she could feel his heart going fast.

“I love you too.”

They lay there like that, in the quiet morning light, until Duncan finally stood and announced he’d take a shower.

“Want to join me?”

She did, really; he looked sweetly boyish standing there, with his face flushed, naked before her. But then she recalled her vision that morning and felt an urge to write it down. Had it been a dream? Or a flash of memory, like she sometimes had now? She wanted to collect these impressions that came to her, usually when she wasn’t hoping to have them, when she wasn’t trying to remember anything at all.

“You go ahead. I’ll have a last dip in the lake before we go.”

He nodded, disappointed, but she rose and kissed him again before he turned toward the bathroom and she moved to the desk. As the shower ran, she jotted down what parts of the image she could recall—large gallery, Dad’s show—Santa Fe? Stranger with blond hair. She supposed she might ask her father to tell her if such a show had taken place, but these were just the sorts of questions that would make him worry. How frustrating it was not to be able to simply pick up the phone and have some answers.

Their room seemed smaller and more confining now. Crossing to the suitcase, she rummaged for her swimsuit. As she did, she came across the pad of stationery she’d brought with her, along with matching envelopes.

If she couldn’t call her father, why not at least write him a letter? In a letter she could craft precisely what she wished to say. Crossing back to the desk and pulling out a fresh page, she began:

Dear Dad,

I’m writing to you from the countryside not too far from Zurich where Duncan and I have been resting up after Berlin. Berlin was thrilling and exhausting. I’m sure you’d be inspired by it. Everywhere the past is being smashed and rebuilt. Imagine a whole city intent on erasing history, reinventing itself according to new possibilities. It’s like an art studio twenty miles wide.

She thought of other details she might invent—going to one of the nightclubs that had sprung up in old industrial sites, drinking with East Berliners and hearing their stories of childhoods filled with longings, disloyalties, and daily duplicities. Instead she caught herself, feeling guilty for enjoying the fiction a bit too much. Staying on course, she considered what else she should say. She ought to tell her father how to reach her, but the letter would take up to two weeks to arrive in Santa Fe, and then his reply would take as long to cross the ocean again. By that time she had no idea where she and Duncan might be.

Vienna will be nextDuncan and I leave todaythough after that, nothing has been planned. I’ll have to phone at some point when our itinerary is more solid, but in the meantime, I hope you’re staying cool in the Santa Fe summer. Wear a hatmaybe I’ll pick one up for you, something stylish from Paris or Rome. Miss you, Daddy, and love you.

Your girl,

Gina

She was signing the letter as Duncan stepped out from the bathroom in a towel. She folded up the paper and slid it inside an envelope. Duncan mentioned that they had stamps at reception. “I’ll bring it down later with the luggage,” he offered, bending to kiss her, brushing back the hair that clung wetly to his face.

Checkout wasn’t until one, so Gina went to take her final swim while Duncan finished packing and settled the bill. Leaving out a change of clothes and putting on her bathing suit, she walked barefoot to the lakeside, which was grass nearly to the edge. She jumped into the water to avoid stepping on the pebbly bottom, and as she did another memory came to her—visiting Abiquiu Lake as a small girl. This was in the years before she could swim, before she was long and strong, when she would cling to her mother’s warm body, lacking the courage to let go, the faith that, alone, she wouldn’t just sink and sink and sink.

Now she swam hard, as if swimming against her own fear and confusion, the quiet terror that not knowing parts of her past still caused her. She swam for so long, in fact, that her lips began to quiver from the cold, and she worried that she’d be late to leave. Hurrying onto the grass, she raced up to the room to get changed.

Dressed again, she went to the reception room, spotting Duncan with his back to her. He was speaking into the desk phone.

“Yes, it all came through, thank you. I just wanted to add, I hope you know I never meant to hurt you.”

She stopped herself, hearing these words. She’d assumed he was dealing with something practical, a reservation or an incorrect bill.

The landlady, Ms. Arner, called to her from across the desk and Duncan turned too, facing Gina with a casual expression in no way suited to the tone in which he’d just been speaking. Putting his hand over the receiver, he mouthed to her, “My mother.”

“Ah, right.”

She backed away, not to intrude. It was unfortunate how little interaction she and Duncan’s mother had with one another, but she’d come to accept that this wasn’t likely to change. Mrs. Lowy had been born a Jew in Alsace-Lorraine during the Second World War and, from the moment she’d heard Gina’s last name was Reinhold, she’d regarded her with suspicion. Gina could only imagine what the woman would make of their visiting first Berlin and then Vienna.

“We’ll need to talk about this another time, okay? I’m sorry. I promise I’ll call again.” Duncan hung up the line, shaking his head.

“Is everything all right?” Gina asked him.

He didn’t answer right away. The call seemed to have unsteadied him. “Just had to check in, let her know we’re okay.”

“And apologize?”

“For leaving her behind, taking a trip, leading our own independent happy lives.” He smiled, but Gina was still bothered.

“You didn’t tell her we were headed to Austria?”

“No, God no. She thinks we’re in London. She sent us letters there, apparently. I had to pretend we’d gotten them.”

Regrettable as it was, she understood that lies like these couldn’t be avoided. She and Duncan were both obliged to lie about this trip, in different ways, to protect their parents’ feelings. She thought about the letter to her father, which she spotted atop a small pile of letters on the table behind the desk. Ms. Arner was standing by the table, copying something into a ledger.

“Thank you,” Gina called to her. “For everything. It’s been perfect here, really.”

“Oh, it’s been my pleasure,” said Ms. Arner. “I wish all my guests could be this nice; I wish all couples could be so cheering as you both.”

Gina smiled at the woman and then at Duncan, who was still watching the phone, distracted. When he noticed her looking at him, he quickly warmed, wrapping an arm around her waist. “There’s a one o’clock train from Zurich to Vienna,” he announced. “I’ve called a car to take us to the station.”

Despite her unease that morning, she couldn’t help but be excited that they were off to Vienna. Soon she’d be seeing that lovely city again: the fine, pale buildings tiled in bright orange or domed in verdigris; the rows of trees, the fountains and the statues, the monuments that peered out in the distance, extravagantly lit. She hadn’t gotten to visit nearly enough of it during the rush of the festival, night after night spent dancing in that glittering theater, then spilling, drunk from motion and exhaustion, onto the vibrant streets. She’d made a mental list of all that she meant to see once the performances were done, but circumstance intervened, a dreadful call came from her father, and so those sights remained unreached: the Tiergarten, the Prater, the Hotel Sacher—all penetrated by a deeper yearning that made her wary of visiting without Duncan there too.

She leaned against him, thinking of how he’d held her after the flight home from Vienna—he’d arrived for her mother’s funeral ahead of her, and was there to greet her when she stepped, in a daze, from the plane in New Mexico. Her Duncan. Her home, wherever in the world they might be.

Reading Group Guide

1. The book is set in the 1990s, before social media and smartphones. How would modern technology have affected the plot and Duncan’s plan? Would Duncan still have been able to escape with Gina? Why or why not?

2. The author, who studied philosophy and psychology, wrote: “If Duncan’s childhood was shaped by isolation and restriction, Gina’s had been shaped by plentitude and loss.” Consider how the author’s background in psychology can be seen in Gina and Duncan’s portrayals. In what ways throughout the book are their individual childhood traumas revealed? How do their parents affect their decisions and actions as adults?

3. The book alternates point of view between Duncan and Gina. Did you root for one over the other? Did your position change as the novel progressed? Do you find one to be more trustworthy than the other?

4. When considering his friendship with Blake, Duncan thinks, “Blake’s glibness about the truth came as a relief.” In what other ways did Blake’s attitude impact Duncan’s outlook and actions? Do you consider Blake to be a good friend?

5. Memories may not be absolute truth because we view them through the lens of our own experiences. How do Gina’s memories evolve throughout the book? Have you ever reconsidered a memory based on new information? How does memory play into Gina’s character and her motivations?

6. Have you ever had a moment where you were presented with an opportunity to start over? How did it come about, and what choice did you make? Is it possible to ever start over completely?

7. Gina tells Duncan early in their dating: “I’m sorry also, for my mother. But for me, I don’t know, there was something that her accident taught me. It forced me to wake up and realize, there’s no guarantee of a tomorrow, and no such thing as a safe choice . . . You can lose it all in a minute. So why wait? Why compromise? If you want something, you grab it!” Do you think there’s such a thing as a safe choice? How did each of the characters “grab” what they wanted? Do you think they were right in doing so?

8. At one point, Blake says to Duncan about Gina: “In school, you know, she had a reputation as a liar . . . It was so bad, the school shrink had to see her.” Do you consider Gina to be a liar? How do you define that label?

9. The topic of money comes up frequently throughout the book. How does access to wealth impact Duncan and Gina’s relationship? Is it possible to have a relationship in which money doesn’t play a role?

10. How did you feel when Gina’s secret near the end was revealed? Do you think she manipulated Duncan?

11. Do you think Gina and Duncan are meant to be together? Will they have a happy marriage? What elements do you find make for a healthy relationship? Do you see those elements in Gina and Duncan’s relationship?

12. Why did the author choose Europe as a setting for most of the story? How did travel and being in unfamiliar environments play into the plot and impetuses for each character?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The majority of the book takes place in various European countries. If you’ve ever visited Europe, share your experiences with the group. If you haven’t, what countries would you like to visit and why?

2. Letters, postcards, and phone calls are all used as ways to connect the characters while they travel. If you have a friend or family member who lives far away, write them a letter or postcard and strike up a regular pen pal correspondence.

3. Consider the title and first line of the novel, “It was the end of getting lost—a moment when travel could still feel like taking leave of the familiar, before there were ten different means for a person to be reached in almost any corner of the world.” If you could “get lost” somewhere in the world, where would it be? Have you ever gone off the grid or lived without modern-day technological contacts? Imagine a scenario in which you could do so, or imagine traveling back to 1996 and living without modern technology. Share what would be the most difficult and most rewarding aspects of doing so with the group.

Author Questions

1. Q: The first line of the novel evokes both nostalgia for a past time and recognition of today’s modern conveniences. How did the balance of these two perspectives come to you, and did you always know you would begin the novel this way?

A: Practical considerations about plot necessitated that the novel be set in the past, before we had access to the sort of technologies that make it impossible to vanish into a foreign landscape like Gina and Duncan do. Once that decision was made, though, I couldn’t help but have thoughts and feelings about that time, which just slightly precedes my own post-college years. The nineties were a period of comparative innocence, it strikes me now: after the Berlin Wall had fallen, when Eastern Europe was opening up and so inexpensive that plenty of young, creative people I knew were heading there in an often romantic and utopian spirit. I wanted that spirit to infuse the book and Gina and Duncan’s romance, and I wanted us to recall, too, what being present to circumstances and passions felt like when we could really leave our ordinary lives behind us. True, we’ve gained many conveniences and are able to maintain connections from afar, but communication technology has its costs. It’s not only altered how we travel and experience the unknown, but also how we fall in love, and the extent to which we can get lost in a place or in somebody else.

2. Q: The book alternates points of view between Duncan and Gina. Did you always know the structure would play out between their two viewpoints? Why was it important to share both of their narratives?

A: The decision to alternate perspectives must have been made early because it’s central to my mission in this book: to create conflicted and shifting sympathies for each character. That’s something I seek to do in all my writing: to unsteady our faith in first assumptions and create characters that are both more wonderful, and sometimes more terrible, than we’ve judged them to be. I like to have nice characters find themselves doing not nice things, or to have ugly actions be tied to beautiful motives, and I also like to give characters a chance to have the floor and reveal themselves in unanticipated ways that provoke us to reconsider our previous reactions. To me, such choices are a means of honoring human complexity, something a novel is poised to accomplish with special depth.

3. Q: The End of Getting Lost weaves in so many different yet corresponding themes about memory, truth, and trust. Was there one question that motivated all these themes, or which drove your writing?

A: I’ve always been drawn to questions about love and blindness, romantic fantasy and distortion. Some may read this novel—with justice—as a story about gaslighting, if a complicated one, where both characters take turns being duped. It is that, but it’s also an exploration of the ways in which we all construct romantic narratives within a relationship, some of which might prove toxic, but some of which are necessary to power our passion and maintain our connection. As lovers, we affirm each other’s uniqueness in ways that might not be objectively true. We make inevitability out of chance, or find beauty in details others might find mundane. And we forget, too, (or cast out of view) our disappointments and pains, our joys with other lovers, so we can avoid having our affections smothered under an accumulation of grievances. Gina and Duncan’s story, in its extremity, is intended to magnify and expose what occurs mostly unnoticed on a smaller scale in all our love stories.

4. Q: This novel could be categorized in many different genres. Did you have one in mind as you were writing? Do you consider this to be a love story?

A: I enjoy writing between genres, which is to say weaving elements of the romance novel, romantic thriller, and suspense novel into what is primarily literary fiction. Then again, all of those elements have always been present in literary fiction, with the distinction being, perhaps, that literary fiction prides itself on being morally complex and unsentimental. The End of Getting Lost is unsentimental, I think, and yet I really do consider it a love story—if an odd one where its romantic tendencies are followed to their not merely “happily-ever-after” conclusion. My aim wasn’t to skewer romantic ideals, as other novels like Gone Girl or You have done better than I could. I couldn’t skewer them, really, because I consider myself a romantic too, like Duncan and Gina, both of whom come to realize that this isn’t a wholly positive thing to be. To keep a great romance going involves some deluding of others and one’s self; it involves both great sacrifice and great selfishness and might, as the novel suggests, require a certain letting go of the world and even a descent into a mild form of madness. But who’s to say it’s not worth it?

5. Q: How did your background in psychology influence the plot and writing of the novel? Have you always wanted to become a novelist?

A: Actually I started writing novels long before I entered training to be an analyst and my writing on this novel coincided with my studies. That said, there’s no question that my interest in writing and psychoanalysis have informed one another and, I think, share a common root. I’ve always been someone who’s strongly felt the power of the unconscious and been moved to understand how so much of what we do and are lies out of reach of our rational understanding. I also think my ways of building character are premised on a psychoanalytic model of how upbringing impacts the pattern of our adult lives, and on how needs and fantasies implanted in us early drive us on with a hidden force it can take a lifetime to recognize, let alone manage.

6. Q: Could you say a little more about how your thinking about psychology shaped the depiction of your two main characters, Gina and Duncan?

A: I spent some time in the novel sketching Gina and Duncan’s childhoods because I wanted to create human beings who would plausibly do the rather implausible things they end up doing. Gina, for instance, lost her mother young, which has instilled in her a fear of dying and losing those she loves. To my mind, Gina has used art and love to escape the feelings of grief and fear that threatened to overwhelm her as a girl—and so she’ll go to great lengths to make her life larger than life (and death.) Then you think of her willingness to forgive what Duncan has done, which probably most women wouldn’t. After all, he’s lied to her in the most egregious way, and taken wild risks to get her back. For Gina, though, who has suffered loss, Duncan’s willingness to hold on at all costs offers her the kind of reassurance she needs, and a partner for that large, artistic, somewhat unreal life she feels safest within.

As for Duncan, more briefly, this is a guy who has been forced to be cautious by his mother, and doesn’t, until Gina (and to some extent Blake) know how to risk enough to feel alive on his own. He’s also had to lie to gain his mother’s approval, which makes him just duplicitous enough, and just appeasing enough, for the role he’ll end up playing as a co-creator of Gina’s fantasy.

7. Q: What moment or scene was the most fun or the most challenging to write? What makes it stand out to you?

A: I do always love writing a twist ending, and this one, where Gina’s motives are revealed, afforded me the extra thrill of upending the view of her as Duncan’s victim and recasting her as the more dominant mastermind. Maybe it’s the feminist in me, but that was awfully fun.

8. Q: There are so many vivid locales throughout Gina and Duncan’s journey through Europe. Have you visited the cities described in the novel? Why did you choose Europe as the backdrop for their travels?

A: I’ve been lucky enough to visit all the locations in the book (aside from Lake Walensee) and roughly at the age Gina and Duncan do. I suspect it was my own travels as a young woman that influenced my choice of setting, which for me is linked to that period in world history. Europe served my story well, moreover, because this was the beginning of the European Union, when people could country-hop in a way that wasn’t possible before. It’s that freedom which allows for the continent-wide cat and mouse chase, full of momentum and the sense of a limitless landscape.

9. Q: At one point Duncan considers how both Blake and Gina “help[ed] him become braver and more alive.” Who inspired you to follow your dreams, or encouraged you to be “brave” in your life?

A: Because Gina and Duncan are both young adults, the novel is also a coming-of-age story where both characters learn to escape their pasts (and fail to escape them too.) In my own coming of age, there were different people along the way who served, like Blake does for Duncan, as antidotes to my upbringing, or exposed me to new ways of being. I can’t say all those relationships ended too well. In my experience, we don’t often learn the most from “good” role models; sometimes we find ourselves traveling with reckless people along reckless paths, only to find this has helped us sort out our own boundaries and rediscover our allegiances.

10. Q: What do you hope readers will take away after finishing The End of Getting Lost?

A: I’d like readers to come away from the book with a sense of exhilaration, first—holy s—t, look what a crazy feat these two pulled off! After all, it’s a fun book, and part of the fun lies in watching these two lovers shape their destinies in grand ways most of us won’t dare. In the end, Duncan and Gina turn their backs on who and what they know and embark on a future that’s potentially gorgeous, but also fraught with risk. As our own doubts about their prospects for happiness sink in, that makes room for questions. I think the novel leaves readers with many. Is Duncan and Gina’s love mature enough to survive? Can it and should it make room for greater honesty and acceptance of their limitations and past misdeeds? How much is each of us, in our own romantic life, guilty of some of the same kind of wishful thinking and deceit? Is there something about a romantic ending that’s inherently unstable?

About The Author

Nina Subin

Robin Kirman studied philosophy at Yale before receiving her MFA in writing from Columbia, where she also taught for several years. Her curiosity about human psychology has led her to combine work in psychoanalysis with writing fiction. Her first novel, Bradstreet Gate, was published in 2015, and her television series The Love Wave is currently in development.

Why We Love It

“This novel is about what we’ll do for love—and what we’ll do to protect it; about the choices and sacrifices we make for our passions—artistic, romantic, or otherwise; about well-meaning people behaving terribly to get who and what they desire; and it all sparkles in elegant, atmospheric prose, with cutting psychological insights. Not just a literary novel, not just a thriller, this book is a thrilling literary adventure that captured my imagination from the first page.”

—Carina G., Editor, on The End of Getting Lost

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 15, 2022)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982159856

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Raves and Reviews

Amazon Best Book of the Month, Mystery, Thriller and Suspense
Crimereads Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of 2022
 

"The End of Getting Lost will draw you in, the story will surprise and captivate you, and you will be delivered from the concerns of your current life (at least for a while). This book just might provide the escape you need (as it did for me). So if you’re considering what to read this week, think about escaping into The End of Getting Lost." —Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review

"...a storyline that offers an intriguing mix of romance, psychological thriller and travelogue. Think Before Sunrise if Patricia Highsmith had had a story credit." —TimeOut

"Kirman's investment in well-placed twists and several surprising revelations uplifts the couple's story." Shelf Awareness

“Skillful…this twisty page-turner delivers.”—Publishers Weekly

“This is a slim and beautifully written novel, more literary than thriller but plot-driven all the same. Readers won’t know who to root for in this story that is ripe for discussion.”—Booklist

"The End of Getting Lost is a beautifully written love story with plenty of twists and turns. I adored going back to a time when we could actually vanish without an electronic trace. And what better place to do so than the shadows of Europe? Robin Kirman is wonderfully deft with suspense and plot. This is a true dark delight."—KATIE CROUCH, New York Times bestselling author of Girls in Trucks 

The End of Getting Lost is atmospheric, lyrical, filled with layered insights into the complexities of marriage and thwarted ambition. I couldn't look away from Duncan and Gina's story.”—SUSIE YANG, New York Times bestselling author of White Ivy

"As enticing and twisty as the covered passageways our heroes use to disappear themselves in Europe, Robin Kirman seduces with this electric page-turner about ambition, deceit, and obsessive love."—COURTNEY MAUM, author of Costalegre and Touch 

“Both wildly beautiful and darkly sinister, The End of Getting Lost unveils the nature of obsession, love, and deceit. Sophisticated and utterly gripping.”—ROSAMUND LUPTON, New York Times bestselling author of Sister, Afterwards, and The Quality of Silence

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