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,


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.

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

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.

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.

Meet the Author

Stewart O’Nan has published nine previous novels that include The Good Wife, Everyday People, and A Prayer for the Dying, a book of short stories In the Walled City, and four works of non-fiction that include the bestselling book he co-authored with Stephen King about the Red Sox Faithful. O’Nan’s novel Snow Angels has been made into a movie by Warner Independent starring Kate Beckinsale and was released in March of 2008. He is a huge Red Sox and Pirates fan and lives in Avon, CT with his wife.

Brief Biography

Avon, CT
Date of Birth:
February 4, 1961
Place of Birth:
Pittsburgh, PA
B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992

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Songs for the Missing 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 127 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Mr. O'Nan's writing style. The book flowed for me. Not so much a story of a missing person (as I had expected), but more a story of a family dealing with a tragic event... day by day, month by month, year by year. Since reading this book, every time I have seen a missing child story, I feel an immediate connection with what the family is going through.
bhw1978 More than 1 year ago
Ok...So I couldn't let this book have only 2 stars. It is excellent. Now it is not a epic who done it. It is a simple story with characters who aren't constantly crying. They are coping. It is subtle...and extremely well-written. I cared about these characters. Read this book with an open mind...It is a solid read!! Thanks!
cindysloveofbooksarcCS More than 1 year ago
This is Stewart's 12 fiction book. This is my first time reading Stewart O'Nan's work. I throughly enjoyed the book and I am looking forward to reading his other books.

The books is about the Larsen family, the friends and a small town community dealing with the disappereance of the Larsen's 18 year old daughter Kim. Kim is a popular and happy go lucky kind of girl. She is a recent high school graduate who is leaving in a few weeks to go to college in the midwest. Kim disappears on her way to work one evening without a trace. There is very little to go on and nothing turns up.

The family is doing everything in their power to find Kim. Fran is doing media, handing out buttons, passing out flyers and seeks out donations to help in the search for her daughter. Ed is getting people involved in search parties. Finally with no leads or nothing to go on the media is no longer interested and the family is having to deal with their loss of Kim not returning home. The family continues to search and keep their hopes alive that they will find her.

Will their efforts pay off?
Guest More than 1 year ago
The beginning of the book is good, but O'Nan forgets about Kim and throws us into the life of the family and friends of Kim. Honestly, the book was not for me, but it could be for other people with a different taste. The author writes wonderfuly, but in some parts of the book, like the fishing and about Nina and J.P. reuniting, really did not matter, and did not add anything to the story. I was dissapointed in the end, but also glad that Kim's sister was finaly able to blend into a crowd and become unnoticed after all of that time being the center of attention for the family, town, and meeting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Songs for the Missing is not the story of Kim Larsen, recent graduate bound for college. Even though the story opens in her viewpoint, she¿ll soon be silenced. And all that will be left behind is her memory. Her parents, sister, boyfriend, friends and community will begin a massive search for her. It¿s their songs Stewart O¿Nan wants us to hear. Her mother and father will struggle and falter for a time before they grow into advocates. Her boyfriend will wrestle with guilt and her friends will worry about saving themselves. Her sister will grow from a fifteen year old in the shadow of her older sister to a young woman forever transformed by the time her sister was missing. This reviewer¿s not read any other Stewart O¿Nan novels, but will surely be looking to read a few more. The thing Mr. O¿Nan does best is tell the story in a matter-of-fact tone that is both tight and unsentimental. This is a rare skill for today¿s novelists one I truly appreciate. The story takes place over a number of years, but the passage of time passes effortlessly for the reader. Because it is so tight, I suspect that some will feel that it lacked something in depth, a fair argument. Songs for the Missing is a character driven, slow plotted story. The narrative is propelled by the voices Kim left behind, not by their actions. Like the story itself, the ending is abrupt and unyielding, a good match for the tone of most of the novel. When my own children were young, I avoided all books on this topic in fear of making the thought real. It seems, when we imagine this horror, that we would never survive, but what Songs for the Missing does best is to show us the everyday lives of a family taking each step in that horror filled world. Recommended for readers who enjoy slower paced, character driven stories or readers who have a special interest in missing persons, or readers who enjoy stories examining family/community relationships.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i had been longing to read one of stewart o'nan's books for a long time...he's a friend of stephen king and i had always heard good things about his books. i'm so glad i was chosen to read Songs for the Missing as part of the Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club. this book was wonderful. i tend to lean toward mysteries and thrillers and historial fiction, or the latest best seller, not all of which lend themselves to great writing. while the subject matter of Songs was depressing and sad and quietly devastating, i couldn't put it down. i felt as if i knew the characters, like they were actual people, and i found myself thinking about them when i wasn't reading, and after i finished the book. i totally 'got' what they were experiencing - i almost felt as though i was experiencing the loss of someone close to me. i thought o'nan handled each of the characters perfectly, male and female...from the parents, to kim's kid sister, to her they felt guilty for some of their thoughts or how they handled themselves in this horrible situation. i suspect Songs will stay with me for a long time, and i am looking forward to reading more of o'nan's fiction. he's a wonderful, true writer. this book IS a song.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really a great one -- it kept you engrossed from the beginning and I could barely put it down. I have read other Steward O'Nan books -- and this one was one of the best. Highly recommend this one
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JKtypist More than 1 year ago
Being familiar with O'Nan's honest and subdued writing style, I read Songs for the Missing with his mastery in mind. I was not disappointed. This is not a book filled with cheap gimmicks and emotional schlock. It is an honest portrait of loss and love and a family's desperate and often divergent attempts to reconcile the inconceivable. O'Nan, as evidenced in many of his works, is a master at the slow burn and he evokes such emotion with the gentlest of tugs here that he had me turning pages at a steady pace. An excellent book by one of today's best authors no one is talking about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hoping for so much more from this book. It was an okay read but check it out at the library instead of spending money on it.
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PHM1955 More than 1 year ago
Great book about what happens to a family when a child goes missing.
minwhartford More than 1 year ago
Sad but wonderfully written. I could relate to the characters and the emotions that they were feeling.
bookchick_508 More than 1 year ago
This book is very easy to read and holds your attention to the end. It gives the reader other perspectives of people dealing with uncertainty, change, tragedy, and loss.
samoht More than 1 year ago
During the summer following her high school graduation, Kim Larsen is working at the Conoco by the freeway. Sometimes she stands on the overpass and watches the cars bound for Cleveland, Toledo and beyond. After work, she and her friends go to the beach to talk and drink beer. Then Kim goes missing. Stewart O'Nan writes quietly, pulling the reader into the thoughts and emotions of Kim's family and friends. While the search for Kim goes on, those close to her try to cope, and that is the focus of the novel. Kim's disappearance causes strains in her family and between her family and her friends. This is not a police procedural nor a novel of suspense. But the suspense is there even as O'Nan writes of the efforts of those who knew Kim best to make sense of the situation, to go on despite the uncertainty of Kim's fate. Kim and her family live in Kingsville, Ohio, a small town on Lake Erie not far from the Pennsylvania line. O'Nan is obviously familiar with the area, and the book is full of local references. When Kim's mother says she's surprised the Star Beacon hasn't called about a possible, Kim"s father tells her she has too confidence in the paper. The Star Beacon is a real paper, and the feelings expressed by Mr. Larsen are common in Ashtabula County. O'Nan makes us care, and he does it without cheap tricks and gore. The characters in this novel stay with you long after you put the book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book captured me right away and kept me all the way to the end.