Songs for the Missing: A Novel

Songs for the Missing: A Novel

3.6 127
by Stewart O'Nan

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An enthralling portrait of one family in the aftermath of a daughter’s disappearance

“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.” It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small Midwestern town. Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend,

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An enthralling portrait of one family in the aftermath of a daughter’s disappearance

“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.” It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small Midwestern town. Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend, must now do everything they can to find her. As desperate search parties give way to pleading television appearances, and private investigations yield to personal revelations, we see one town’s intimate struggle to maintain hope, and finally, to live with the unknown.

Stewart O’Nan’s new novel begins with the suspense and pacing of a thriller and soon deepens into an affecting family drama of loss. On the heels of his critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling Last Night at the Lobster, Songs for the Missing is an honest, heartfelt account of one family’s attempt to find their child. With a soulful empathy for these ordinary heroes, O’Nan draws us into the world of this small Midwestern town and allows us to feel a part of this family.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

O'Nan proves that uncertainty can be the worst punishment of all in this unflinching look at an unraveling family. In the small town of Kingsville, Ohio, 18-year-old Kim Larsen-popular and bound for college in the fall-disappears on her way to work one afternoon. Not until the next morning do her parents, Ed and Fran, and 15-year-old sister, Lindsay, realize Kim is missing. The lead detective on the case tells the Larsens that since Kim is an adult, she could, if the police find her, ask that the police not disclose her location to her parents. When Kim's car later turns up in nearby Sandusky, Ed, desperate to help, joins the official search. Meanwhile, Fran stays home putting all her energy into community fund-raisers, and Lindsay struggles to maintain a normal life. Through shifting points of view, chiefly those of the shell-shocked parents and the moody Lindsay, O'Nan raises the suspense while conveying the sheer torture of what it's like not to know what has happened to a loved one. When-if ever-do you stop looking? 6-city author tour. (Nov.)

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Library Journal

O'Nan (Last Night at the Lobster) here captures the emotional upheaval the disappearance of a young girl inflicts on her family and friends, writing with forceful clarity of their anxiety, mingled hope and fear, depression, anger, nostalgia, and sense of loss. Actress/singer/narrator Emily Janice Card (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) gives a fine performance; her delivery of the teenage dialog is especially successful. Recommended for all audio collections. [Audio clip available through; the Viking hc was recommended "for most public libraries," LJ8/08.-Ed.]
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

Kirkus Reviews
Taut prose and matter-of-fact detail enrich this compelling portrait of teenage life in small-town Ohio, as the disappearance of a popular girl on the cusp of leaving home for college changes the communal dynamic of family and friends. The latest from O'Nan (Last Night at the Lobster, 2007, etc.) initially reads like a whodunit, but who or why become less important than the character of the vanished Kim Larsen from the differing memories of those who knew her best-or thought they did-and the ways in which Kim's disappearance allows all sorts of revelations to come to light. The opening chapter is the only one that views Kim's life from her own perspective: the job she tolerates, the little sister who occasionally annoys her, the parents whose tension between them sometimes rises to the surface, the friends with whom she shares routines and some confidences, the boyfriend with whom she isn't serious enough to stay with past the summer. She anticipates college as an escape from the town where "every night they fought a war against boredom and lost," yet she's understandably apprehensive about living away from home. Then she disappears, putting her parents into a panic, forcing her friends to decide which secrets to reveal, uniting the community in its attempts to aid the search and offer support to the family. Will Kim's disappearance end her parents' marriage or make it stronger? Is there a logical explanation, a motive, or is this simply evidence of "the world's incoherence"? Though the author sustains narrative momentum through the conventions of the police procedural (with chapter headings such as "Description of the Person, When Last Seen" and "Known Whereabouts"), ultimately the novelis less about a possible crime than about the interconnections of small-town life. "The problem was that everything was connected," thinks one of Kim's friends. "One lie covered another, which covered a third, which rested against a fourth. It all went back to Kingsville being so goddamn small."A novel in which every word rings true. Agent: David Gernert/The Gernert Company

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Description of the Person, When Last Seen

July, 2005. It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow. The last summer, the best summer, the summer they’d dreamed of since eighth grade, the high and pride of being seniors lingering, an extension of their best year. She and Nina and Elise, the Three Amigos. In the fall they were gone, off to college, where she hoped, by a long and steady effort, she might become someone else, a private, independent person, someone not from Kingsville at all.

The sins of the Midwest: flatness, emptiness, a necessary acceptance of the familiar. Where is the romance in being buried alive? In growing old?

She did not hate the town, as, years later, her sister would tell one lover. Not Kim, not the good daughter. She loved the lake, how on a clear day you could see all the way to Canada from the bluffs. She loved the river, winding hidden in its mossy gorge of shale down to the harbor. She even loved the slumping Victorian mansions along Grandview her father was always trying to sell, and the sandstone churches downtown, and the stainless steel diner across from the post office. She was just eighteen.

At the Conoco, on break, she liked to cross the lot and then the onramp and stand at the low rail of the overpass, French-inhaling menthols in the dark as traffic whipped past below, taillights shooting west into the future. Toledo was three hours away, on the far side of Cleveland, far enough to be another country. Trucks lit like spaceships shuddered under her feet, dragging their own hot wind, their trailers full of unknown cargo. Slowly, night by night, the dream of leaving was coming true -- with her family’s blessing, their very highest hopes. She could not regret it. She could only be grateful.

Inside, the a/c was cranked so high she wore a T-shirt under her uniform. They poached old nametags they found in the junk drawer under the register. She was Angie, Nina was Sam. They spun on their stools and watched the monitors, punching in the pump numbers and making change. They read heavy, insane fashion magazines and called around to see what was going on later -- even though they were on camera too -- and fought over whose turn it was to refill the nacho pot. Her timecard was in its slot, the clock beside it chunking with every minute, a record of her steadiness. She’d worked seven days a week since graduation and hadn’t missed a shift. Later the police would call this strict pattern a contributing factor. Secretly she was proud of it. She’d never been so determined. She’d never had a reason before.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan. Copyright (c) 2008 by Jeff Gordinier.

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What People are saying about this

Ann Packer
"Stewart O'Nan has done the seemingly impossible, taken a story with tabloid potential and not just avoided the pitfalls of melodrama and unearned grace but written a novel that is singularly insightful, beautifully modulated, and genuinely moving. It's also very suspenseful; I read it quickly but will remember it for a very long time."
Dennis Lehane
Songs For The Missing is both profound and profoundly beautiful. A haunting meditation on the power of those we lose, its emotional resonance defies description. Like most of Stewart O'Nan's work, my ultimate response was the highest praise one writer can pay another: envy. I so dearly wish I'd written it.

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