Zinzi Clemmons’ novel What We Lose is one of the most talked about books of the season, “the debut novel of the year,” according to Vogue. Some books live up to the hype and some don’t. What We Lose doesn’t, but it is the work of a promising young writer.
What We Lose is the story of Thandi, an African-American woman who is processing the death of her mother. Clemmons intersperses Thandi’s experiences of new love with that of her grief, creating parallel narratives of blossoming emotion and debilitating sadness. Woven throughout are themes of racial and cultural identity, desire, and the complexity of relationships. The strongest parts of the story are the passages describing the aftermath of death, the pain of absence and the ache of loss.
Alain de Botton is the master of inserting graphs and visual elements into the text flow of his books. In What We Lose Clemmons does the same, working in a few images and graphs into her narrative but not with the same success; the visuals are too few to be meaningful and don’t seem necessary to the story.