Songs For The Missing
By Stewart O’Nan
My last book review covered the novel “Room” (Donahue), a story about an abducted woman who raises a child in captivity. (You can read it here.) I must be subconsciously drawn to these stories because I picked up “Songs For The Missing” on a whim ($4.99 in the bargain area at Indigo!) and discovered it to be another heart wrenching story of abduction and the repercussions felt from it.
Kim is blonde with blue eyes, a butterfly pendant always hanging around her neck, full of life and energy. Her mom struggles to relate to her, her dad remains a vague presence in the background and her sister argues with her continuously. Each family member treats each other with the same carelessness and occasional disdain that we all treat our families with. Bound by blood, we have no qualms with being rude or blunt because we feel they will have to love us, no matter what.
She seems like a somewhat spoiled and thoughtless character, spending her brief time in the novel drinking and sunbathing beside the town’s river. She dreams of moving away and becoming something bigger, believing she is destined for more than simply living in the small town. She has applied to faraway universities and is counting down the days with excitement and a tinge of fear to her departure. Despite this portraiture of her, you feel a compulsion to love her character and to desire her safety.
On that final afternoon, she leaves the group of her friends lounging beside the river and heads home to get ready for her shift at the gas station, none of them knowing (how could they?) that they have seen her for the last time. It feels as though the story truly begins, delving into her parents struggle to have her disappearance considered a crime, her dad spending hours combing the countryside for any sign of her, her mother drinking a bottle of wine every night and falling into a stupor with the help of Ambien. Her younger sister withdraws into a remote world involving the internet and messenger buddies. Kim’s friends find themselves faced with the quandary of telling the police she was involved with a drug dealer.
In my opinion, the novel truly began when Kim was taken and I found myself riding the highs and lows of each and every character, wanting to believe with them that Kim is okay even until the very last page. Of all the books I have read regarding the subject of abduction and murder, this is most tasteful, not dwelling on the sordid details of whatever may have happened to her, but instead maintaining the objective: keeping the focus on the loved ones of each person who disappears. I would recommend this novel about any other one I have read on said subject; I would even recommend it for anyone not interested in this subject as it is simply so compelling and beautifully written.
In the end, “Songs For The Missing” does what every story based on this premise should do: it examines the relationships and the life left behind in those circumstances and it causes you, the reader, to consider your life and all the people who have had an impact, big or small, on you as a person. The questions that typically arise during such traumatic and life altering events are posed in a very real and poignant manner through the duration of this story and it certainly will be read again by me.