Friday, January 16, 2009
Songs For The Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Songs For The Missing by Stewart O'Nan follows a typical family's life after their teenage daughter goes missing. Kim Larsen is home for her last summer before college. She disappears one afternoon between an outing with friends and going to work. The book follows lives in the time following the disappearance, showing how this occurrence affects each individual as well as the family dynamic. It explores how such an event can unravel familial and friendship ties and explores the stages of grief.
O'Nan is masterful at showing how the disappearance affects everyone. Ed Larsen, the father and a real estate broker affected by the economy and bad financial decisions, feels guilty that he hasn't prevented the disappearance and protected Kim as he feels a father should do. He stays busy at first searching, then becomes depressed as time moves on. Fran, the mom, goes into super-organizer mode, lining up volunteers, publicity, and donations. The disappearance and the organization of the events necessary for a full-fledged search become her life. When she isn't working on it, she knocks herself out with sleeping pills. Lindsay, Kim's younger sister, is confused and angry. Always in Kim's shadow as the little sister, now she has to create a new life with her own identity. Not only family, but friends are also affected. The book follows the lives of Kim's best friend and boyfriend as they also try to cope with the tragedy.
As time goes on, support from volunteers starts to dwindle and the police check in less often as the disappearance becomes a cold case. Kim's friends move on, starting their college careers, and forming new relationships. The Larsen family is faced with the dilemma of how long the disappearance can remain the primary focus of their lives. Is it fair to Lindsay to allow her life to be second to that of Kim's forever? Can they sustain the strength that focused their search? As time moves on, the family moves through the recognized stages of grief and finally finds acceptance that they will probably never see Kim again.
I've heard great things about O'Nan for quite a while, and this is my first experience with his writing. The writing is not overblown, which would be easy to do with this situation. While the situation is grim, the book is not depressing. Relationships and their exploration seems to be a real strength for O'Nan. He gets the tone of the average family in a small town exactly right, and takes the reader into the experience of losing your child without knowing what has happened. This book is highly recommended for all readers. I rate it four stars and enjoyed it despite the material.