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[524] Songs for the Missing – Stewart O’Nan

” For some reason, her mother needed her tears. Sometimes she apologized afterwards, and sometimes, dabbing at her face with a tissue, she said she felt better, but Lindsay always felt used. She never cried by herself, only when her mother provoked her, as if she wanted to be sad. Lindsay already was. She was sad for Kim and for J.P., for her mother and father, and for herself, but in her own way, unconnected to everyone else. Her sadness was hers, an inner temple where she worshipped alone, untouchable. ” (166)

Quiet but provokingly unsettling, Songs for the Missing follows the Larsen family in a small Lake Erie town in Ohio after their college-bound daughter disappears. A happy girl who just becomes the owner of a Chevette, Kim has no reason to leave. “She wasn’t in trouble, she hadn’t broken up with her boyfriend, she hadn’t met anyone new, she wasn’t pregnant or depressed or on drugs.” (46) Most of all, she is a responsible girl who is usually good about keeping in touch. She never misses her shift at the truck stop mini mart. News of Kim’s disappearance soon ruffles town and pinches many a nerve of parents. Kim’s mother, Fran, is hoarding all the attention she can get to find Kim, playing up to the interest of hungry television network that craves for stories of missing girls. Her husband, Ed, keeping calm and maintaining a distance from the limelight of his wife’s high-profile campaign, devotes to sweep search with the help of volunteers.

The problem was, he was painfully sane. He realized that he was depressed and angry, but in his position it made sense. After six months he was merely being realistic. He didn’t see what Fran hoped to accomplish, waking early and updating the website, running all over the place chasing after TV coverage. He was afraid that eventually sh would exhaust herself and end up in the same place he was. (229-230)

Remaining seemingly indifferent is Lindsay, the snotty intense kid sister, who wants to escape the shadow of her sister and lives a life of her own. She has always rubbed off on her sister’s fame and the flip side is that that protects her from nasty pranks. Without Kim she would be free to be her own person. Lindsay’s defense mechanism against Kim’s disappearance is an emotional aloofness, a perseverance of her normal life. She refuses to be provoked by her mother in bereavement, keeping her grief private.

Ed, likewise, in the long, empty moments before sleep, decided that James wade had killed her. Only Fran refused to accept it, out of reflex more than any honest consideration. She needed Kim’s death to mean something, and Wade was total unknown. (262)

Songs for the Missing opens with the suspense of a thriller and soon deepens into an affecting family drama of loss. Captured so keenly is the complex dynamics of a family after a tragedy, with each member trying to cope with the tragedy. While the purpose of the novel is not, by any means, suspense, it would still be unfair to readers to reveal too much of the plot. Kim’s disappearance is told in the first chapter. The rest of the novel is a generous narrative generous, thoughtful narrative traces the impact of her disappearance on her family, her friends, her community. This is a novel about loss and healing; a novel that acknowledges the depth of loss and the limits of healing. It addresses the question whether it’s wrong to relinquish hope.

285 pp. Viking. Hardbound. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


11 Responses

  1. Sounds great! For a moment, though, I thought you were going to write about SONGS FOR THE NEW DEPRESSION, which I loved. Been waiting to hear what you think!

  2. The review seeps sadness. I just imagine the pain it will be reading this book.

  3. I like sad books, so I don’t think it will be a pain to read! It sounds really good!

  4. I love Stewart O’Nan and will add this one to my list!

  5. Aaagh! I have to stop reading book reviews. Now another one to add to the 24 waiting on kindle, 6 kindle samples, 48 on amazon wish list, plus 35 real books unread in bookcase. I only average 2 a month. Addicted

    • LOL That’s what reviews are for! I read what book bloggers suggest and start hoarding books. The books will always be there when you need them. 🙂

  6. This is one of my favorite books. It took me by surprise. I feel like I’ve read so many books with this very same plot that I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by it. But, like you said, it’s really more than a suspenseful story of a missing girl. It’s more than that and not that at all. It’s about families and love and grief and the media and a very public tragedy. The more I read by O’Nan, the more he becomes one of my favorite authors. THE ODDS is also excellent.

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