I finally read Stewart O´Nan´s Songs for the Missing, which sat on my nightstand for some time because I wanted to read it when I was in the right mood. It seems ridiculous to declare an author a favorite before having read the complete works, but I think that sometimes you just know after one book. For me this happened when I read O´Nan´s A Prayer for the Dying, and reading Songs for the Missing just confirmed it. Has that happened to any of you, or do you make sure and read all the works available by the author?
The plot of Songs for the Missing is quickly summarized. 18 year old Kim Larsen vanishes from her small midwestern town one summer day, and the novel chronicles the search for her as well as the way in which her parents, sister, and friends deal with her disappearance. Although it may seem like a mystery, it´s not one at all. While the disappearance of Kim is at the heart of the story, the novel is not concerned with leaving well-timed clues about her fate or even closing her case satisfactorily. I´m emphasizing this to warn off anyone who startes to read this with expectations of a suspenseful mystery. Songs for the Missing is foremost about how those closest to Kim cope with her loss, with the uncertainty of what happened to her.
The novel is told in the third person from several perspectives which change with each chapter. In the beginning Kim herself narrates her `last day´ and the reader gets a feel of her and can thus more easily emphathize with the loss felt by her family and friends. The way in which her family mourns her is wonderfully described by O´Nan, the way in which they are torn between hope and grief alsways felt very true to me and never over-the-top.
The search for Kim is hindered by a slow police investigation and involves endless fruitless searches by Kim´s father and volunteers. There is no suspense but always bitter disappointment which drains Ed Larsen´s energy. Kim´s mother, Fran, on the other hand throws herself into organizing fundraisers, setting up websites and a hotline with desperate determination. Their approaches could not be more different, but they are both worried about how Kim´s sister Lindsay deals the loss of her older sister, she holes up in her room and keeping to herself. All the characters are written as very ordinary and real people, and this is perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this book.
The storyline spans about three years and so the reader can observe the changes the characters go through, how their lives are altered by Kim´s disappearance. So if you´re looking for a quiet and compelling character study go get Songs for the Missing.
This novel is also beautifully written, here are some of my favorite passages:
“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.” (1)
“She wanted to stop and close the folder, turn off the computer, afraid that once she sent Kim into that other world, she´d never get her back.” (43)
“For all of their best wishes, in the end her mother would be left alone. When everyone else had stopped, she would still be thinking of Kim, and searching for her, and hoping, because she had no choice. She was different now, seperate from them, and always would be.” (119)
“The relief she felt was total, and though she knew that the body was someone else´s daughter, and this reprieve was only temporary, for now she was grateful.” (183)
“He could no longer be that Ed Larsen, but, through a lack of imagination or just sheer exhaustion, he couldn´t come up with a new one, and faked his way through the days like a bad actor, hardly believing himself.” (185)