Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Stewart O’Nan has written twelve works of fiction. I read his wonderful novel “Last Night at the Lobster” (previously blogged by Charlotte) and wanted to read more of his fiction. His latest novel “Songs for the Missing” is an absorbing, simple story that quietly reveals the raw edges of human emotions.

Kim Larsen is an eighteen year old girl, a little on the wild side, who has just graduated from high school in a small town in Ohio. She has a job at the local Conoco mini-mart. She has a best friend and a boy friend and they are all looking forward to leaving Kingsville and going off to college. It all seems very ordinary. One afternoon Kim meets her friends to hang out at the river before her afternoon shift. She leaves her friends but she never makes it to work. The next morning Kim’s parents find that her bed has not been slept in.

And so begins the story of a parent's worst nightmare. A child has vanished. In this case the child is eighteen so the police are slow to name it a kidnapping. Stewart O’Nan has written a story about loss and the way the people closest to Kim deal with this loss. Kim’s father is a real estate agent who drives his car up and down the interstate looking for his daughter. Kim’s mother is a nurse who goes to the media and the internet to find her child. But the soul of the story rests with Kim’s fifteen year old sister, Lindsay. The author touches the depth of loss through Lindsay. She becomes remote. She can’t deal with her parents and all that is happening around her. She is devastated but she cannot express her feelings. She wants to be left alone, not noticed. Each character in the story is listening to a different “song” as they try to find Kim.

Stewart O’Nan has written a slow paced story that artfully presents the sorrow of loss and mixes it with the elation of hope. He accomplishes this feat by switching the voice from character to character letting the reader hear the viewpoint of each one as they struggle to understand what the loss means to them.

What happened to Kim is only one of the reasons to read this insightful, suspenseful and well written novel.

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