The Edge of Lost

Written by Kristina McMorris
Review by Judith Starkston

The Edge of Lost opens on Alcatraz in 1937, with an elusive prologue describing a moment from an apparent escape attempt. The prologue ends with the sentence, “So long as they didn’t find the girl.” The questions that sentence raises entice the reader forward to nearly the end of the novel, where the mystery of which girl and why is answered.

After the prologue, the novel jumps back to 1919 in Ireland, with a young boy, Shanley Keagan, an orphan in the dubious care of his violent and drunk uncle. Over the course of the novel, Shan is given a multi-layered portrayal as a thoughtful person, smart and able to charm, who nonetheless sometimes makes understandably bad decisions. We learn that Shan has a talent for humor, music and imitating accents. When his uncle realizes they might make more money in America with Shan’s skills as an entertainer, they head to New York. Eventually Shan is taken in by an Italian family and acquires a new identity. From this Italian-American world he becomes connected to crime, although not as a criminal. The circumstances that eventually put him in Alcatraz are constructed to leave him relatively blameless.

All of this complexity makes for a plot that will either intrigue the reader or feel artificially constructed. Moving between both Irish and Italian immigrant communities adds dimension to the novel and serves the plot at several points, but McMorris exploits stereotypes at times, even while she develops characters within them that we care about.