Boy Still Missing: A Novel

Boy Still Missing: A Novel

by John Searles

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It is June 1971. Dominick Pindle, a tenderhearted but aimless Massachusetts teenager, spends his nights driving around with his mother and dragging his wayward father out of bars. Late one evening, Dominick's search puts him face-to-face withhis father's seductive mistress, Edie Kramer. Instantly in lust, he begins a forbidden relationship with this beautiful, mysterious woman. Before long, though, their erotic entanglement leads to a shocking death, and Dominick discovers that the mother he betrayed hid secrets as dark and destructive as his own.

Charged with the exhilarating narrative pace of a thriller and set during a complicated and explosive era, Boy Still Missing is the critically acclaimed debut novel from John Searles. It renders a deeply affecting portrait of a boy whose passage into adulthood proves as complex and impassioned as the history that unfolds before his eyes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061856952
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 333,817
File size: 374 KB

About the Author

John Searles is the author of the bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He appears as a book critic on NBC's Today Show, and his essays have been published in the New York Times and Washington Post. He has a master's degree in creative writing from New York University and lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Boy Still Missing
Chapter One

June 1971

Whenever my father disappeared, we looked for him on Hanover Street. My mother drove us slowly along in our orange Pinto, gazing into shadowy windows. Between the rows of smoky bars glowing with Schlitz and Budweiser signs were slim alleyways where he parked his fender-dented GMC. My mother's best friend, Marnie, sat in the passenger seat, and I squeezed in the back. Marnie's job was to keep an eye out for my father's truck, but she spent most of the time applying foundation, darkening her lashes, and glossing her thin lips in the visor mirror. Marnie had recently read somewhere that all men were intrigued by Southern women, so she adopted the appropriate lingo. Besides the occasional "y'all" and "yahoo," it meant a lot of nicknames. Peaches. Honey pie. Cupcake. At fifteen I considered myself practically a man, and the sound of all that food coming from her mouth did nothing but make me hungry.

Tonight Marnie was in the middle of plucking her eyebrows when she said, "Is that his truck, Peaches?"

"Where?" I said, sticking my head between them. I loved being part of Find-Father-First, and when she spotted his truck, it pissed me off, because I felt I had lost somehow.

"There," Marnie said, tapping her nail against the windshield. "There's the bastard."

I scanned the narrow parking lot. Datsun. Ford. Plymouth. Ford. GMC. My heart banged away, thinking of what usually came next. My mother hated bars and would almost always send me inside to nab my father. "A person could waste a whole life in one of those places," she liked to say.

For me there was nothing better than stepping inside the crowded brick caves—the smells of wet wood, stale beer, and smoke forever mingling in the air. I loved being surrounded by the cracking of pool balls, women with tight jeans and cigarette voices. They were so opposite from my mother with her smooth, young skin, flowery blouses and chinos, timid movements and soft hum of a voice. My mother had the air of a churchgoer, even though she never went to church. She was Sunday afternoon, and those women were Saturday night. Whenever my father saw me, he would pat his heavy hand on my shoulder and introduce me to all his pals. My father was like a movie star inside a bar, probably because he wasn't bald or potbellied or sloppy like the rest of the guys. He had straight teeth and a wave of dark hair, muscles and a flat stomach. He wore the same rugged denim jacket all year long and held his cigarette like a joint. While he paid his tab, I'd grab a fistful of straws so Leon Diesel and I could twist and snap them at the bus stop in the morning. Some nights I'd shove my sweatshirt pockets full of maraschino cherries and a couple green olives for Marnie. The neon fruit stained my hands and the inside of my pockets a strange artificial red that never completely came out in the wash.

The thought of the whole routine made me smile when my mother signaled and braked. We all squinted at the truck parked between Maloney's Pub and the Dew Drop Inn. Even in the summer, faded garland Christmas bells and angels dangled from the wires that hung between buildings and across Hanover Street. Every December the Holedo town maintenance crews put up new decorations, only to let the weather slowly take them down the rest of the year. Under the wiry remains of a golden bell sat the truck Marnie had spotted. Red and silver. Snow chains on the tires even though it was June. "No," my mother said in the softer-timbre voice she used for disappointment. "Roy's truck has that dent in the fender. And he took his chains off last March."

"Honey," Marnie said, "that man took his chains off long before that."

My mother glanced in the side-view mirror and pulled back onto the street, not laughing at the joke.

"Get it?" Marnie said. "Ball and chain."

Neither of us smiled. After all, none of this was funny. For the last two days my father had been on what we called a "big bender." It meant he left for work on Wednesday morning and hadn't been seen since.

I took the opportunity to dig at Marnie for picking out the wrong truck. "Those weren't even Massachusetts plates." My voice cracked a bit, which took away from the slight. I had the froggiest voice of any guy my age and was glad the magic of my long-awaited puberty was finally beginning to deepen it. Marnie looked at me and shrugged like she didn't care. But we both knew she had lost a point or two in the game.

She went back to her eyebrows, and I tried not to be distracted as she plucked. Hair after hair. Hair after hair. She was one of those women who had great faith in the transformative powers of makeup and jewelry. Marnie was so different from my mother, who kept her thick, soot-colored hair in a neat little headband. My mother had tattoo-green eyes and a smile that didn't call for lipstick or gloss. On her ring finger she wore a tiny silver band with a diamond, no bigger than a baby's pinkie nail.

We rolled to the end of Hanover Street, where the entrance ramp led to the highway out of Holedo. The bar lights blurred behind us, and my mother started checking and rechecking her watch, probably realizing how long we'd been searching. I stared out the window at a row of gray apartment complexes, an auto body shop with a half dozen mangled vehicles in the lot, the steady row of streetlamps that cast white light and shifting shadows inside our car as we moved...

Boy Still Missing
. Copyright © by John Searles. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary

The widely acclaimed debut novel from John Searles is a brilliant coming-of-age novel about 15 year-old Dominick Pindle, whose troubled journey is shaped by, and influences, the social and political struggles of the early 1970s.

It is June 1971 and Dominick Pindle, a tenderhearted but aimless Massachusetts teenager, spends his nights driving around with his mother and dragging his wayward father out of bars. Late one evening Dominick's search puts him face-to-face with his father's seductive mistress, Edie Kramer. Instantly bewithced, he begins a forbidden relationship with this beautiful, mysterious woman. Before long, though, their erotic entanglement leads to a shocking death, and Dominick discovers that the mother he betrayed had secrets as dark and destructive as his own.

Charged with the exhilarating narrative pace of a thriller and set during a complicated and explosive era, Boy Still Missing renders a deeply affecting portrait of a boy caught in an intimate and taut family drama that brings the explosive issues of a complicated era -- class upheaval, abortion rights and the dissolution of the American family -- into razor-sharp focus.

Topics for Discussion
  • Describe the relationship between Dominick and his mother in the early chapters of the book. In what way does Dominick "flip-flop" between identifying with his mother and father? How does this role in the family affect his attitude about the world around him?

  • Edie Kramer's sexual appeal is an obvious lure for Dominick, but what else about her draws him into this forbidden relationship?

  • At the police auction in chapter two, Dominick says,"it was as if Edie's kiss had aged me ten years, and I saw my mother in a different way." What about that kiss made him change his view of his mother?

  • Throughout the novel, Dominick considers the way Leon and his father would deal with various situations; often their behavior goes against his instincts. How does their definition of manhood differ from the way Dominick views his male identity by the end of the story?

  • What is the significance of Leon's mini-suicide notes in relation to the short note Dominick writes to his father on Page 136, telling him goodbye?

  • Discuss the symbolism of the cardinal hats that Dominick sees in Saint Patrick's Cathedral and the recurrent images of red balloons throughout the book.

  • Do you believe the appearances of Dominick's mother in the motel and the pond were actual apparitions or just figments of Dominick's imagination?

  • The novel is set immediately preceding the time of the Roe v. Wade decision and one could argue that the tragedy of Terry Pindle's life states a case for abortion, while others might feel that this tale presents an argument against abortion. Which side of this issue do you think the story supports and why?

  • What was the ultimate life lesson Dominick learned in this coming-of-age journey? How did he triumph? How did his actions "free" his mother?

  • When Dominick finally sees Truman in the last seen of the book, he states: "Ever since the day I'd been told who he was, I pictured him as one of flawless, blue-blazered kids I'd seen streaming from that school on the Upper East Side. But when our eyes met, I felt as if I was looking at a version of myself; or rather the young man I might have become had none of this happened. Ordinary. Innocent enough. And all at once I saw that there was some sort of magic in that ordinariness. A magic I no longer had." What do you think this description and this moment signifies? What does Dominick mean when he talks about a magic he no longer has?

  • The title Boy Still Missing appears throughout the book, first as a headline from a newspaper about Truman, then as a headline about Dominick, and finally as a description that the adult Dominick uses to describe himself as he reflects on his life. Discuss the significance of the title Boy Still Missing as well as various definitions in relation to this story.

  • Customer Reviews

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    Boy Still Missing 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
    bayareagirl More than 1 year ago
    This to me was a book that could only have been written by a guy -- the problem popped up in the first few chapters for me and the rest just never recovered from the glaring "unbelievability" for me. The writer did not create a character that came alive for me. -- The motivation for teenage Dominick to steal from and betray his mom is so he can rescue his father's former mistress? I get sons hating mothers -- or loving mothers -- but somehow Dominick is so weak he can get manipulated by an "older" woman... ok BUT THEN he is the good guy ? Nah! VERY DISAPPOINTED after all the glowing reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Ah.. family secrets..we all have them! Loved this book parts made me laugh, parts made me cry. I'd be proud to have a son like Dominick.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This was a very powerful and tantalzing read. I was hooked mid way through with the many twist and turns that john searles left the readers with. It kept me guessing from the very second and had me in tears at the tragic climax of this engaging tale of a young teen in a riviting period of time known as the 70's. the character's left me speachless and wondering what perils they would face next. I would recomend it to anyone looking for a fastpased thriller that took me to the far reaches of this boys life and back as he propells down in to his life altering future.
    bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the best books I have read in quite some time. It is a coming-of-age story, yet so much more. Dominick is a 15 year old boy who has to face some tough realities, life decisions, and a tough quest for his future. All of the characters are so well written that the reader feels they get to know each and everyone. Searles states that most of his friends are females and it is obvious in the fact that his female characters are dead on. This book is a rollercoaster ride for your emotions. It seems like Dominick's choice to ultimately do a good deed and help his mother, leads him down a road which is filled with heartache and dispare. His move into adulthood is not paved with an easy path. Fabulous read...
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    very good book kept but interest usual with this author the ending keeps you wondering...
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Long & disjointed
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    JasAtl More than 1 year ago
    This book got rave reviews. While I thought it was good, I don't think it was great. Parts of it were hard to believe.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    i loved this book! every family has secrets and dominicks famly secrets unravel infront of him. i read this book in 2 days!!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is one of those books that will hook you from the beginning. The characters are sad and compelling and I found myself rooting for them even when they were making bad decisions. Some parts are a little improbable but I still really enjoyed this book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book was extremely good with alot of plot twists and an exhilerating climax. It points out alot of social issues. The characters came alive, along with the plot, and setting. It's a phenomenon! Praise to John Searles.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    john searles has done a wonderful job in writing this novel. i read this one after having read his second novel a year prior. and i was honestly impressed. i was taken aback by the precise detail and attention given. really good job :-)
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I do not recommend this book to anyone who wants suspense and drama, but if you want an easy read, pick up Boy Still Missing by John Searles. Be prepared though, this story goes by quickly and may leave you quite disappointed.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    i thought that this book was really good!!! i have never read a book that was better than this!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I thought the book was awesome! I'm not really into reading books for fun unless one sparks my interest and this one did. Once I began reading it I couldn't stop. It made me cry and it made me laugh.John Searles did an excellent job on his first book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This was a fabulous book by a first-time author. I absolutely could not put it down, as I was totally absorbed in the characters in the story. I will be looking out for the next novel by Mr. Searles!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I am an avid reader of new fiction, but in recent years have found that I've been disappointed time and time again by promising novels that did not follow through. This novel stands so far above all the rest -- it is a riveting, captivating read that stirs the heart and soul. Dominick is a character you will not soon forget. Comparisons have been drawn to Salinger, and certainly this novelist's spare eloquence bares a resemblance, but his story also tackles issues and concerns that most modern novelist would shy from -- and with such subtly and intellgience that you are left in awe.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    'If only I could have stopped the most important person in my life from dying . . . alone.' Thus speaks the protagonist of Boy Still Missing, a stunning debut novel by John Searles, the senior books editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. By becoming infatuated with Edie Kramer, his father's seductive mistress, Dominick Pindle, 15, initiates (continues?) a chain of events that ends in tragedy. The time is 1972. On his 16th birthday, Dominick is holed up in a Holedo, Mass., motel. Having stolen thousands of dollars and kidnapped a baby, he finds himself surrounded by police who demand his surrender. Strangely enough, this teenager is not a monster. As Dominick tells his tale, one begins to pull for him and hope against hope that he can find redemption. As I read this novel, two thoughts kept recurring: 'He is more sinned against than sinning' and 'We have met the enemy and he is us!' Who is responsible for the blame and shame that hovers around Dominick like a dark cloud? For centuries, philosophers have debated the problem of determinism vs. free will. Are we inextricably trapped in the inexorable causality of fate? Or are we, by our choices (and by random chance) forging our own character and, hence, our own destiny? Dominick Pindle finds himself in a tangled web woven by his own bad decisions and by the bad decisions of countless others--his contemporaries and his long-deceased ancestors. Critics have compared Boy Still Missing to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Like Holden Caulfield, Dominick Pindle experiences 'rites of passage' from adolescent to adulthood. Searles's coming-of-age tale, however, is superior to Salinger's, and Dominick Pindle has far more 'soul' or 'spirit' than does Holden Caulfield. Beautifully written, Boy Still Missing is replete with striking descriptions, analogies, and metaphors. The dialogue is superb. The best news is that Boy Still Missing is a page-turning, captivating story. Searles will make you angry and make you cheer. He will tease you with hope and taunt you with despair. He will make you laugh and make you cry. He will lift your spirit and break your heart. He will take you on a roller-coaster ride that you will not soon forget.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I read this book in one day -- I could not put it down. A book like this does not come along very often. I highly recommend this book! I look forward to future books by John Searles.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    It's been many years since I read a book in two days, but I was unable to put it down. I immediately cared for the main characters and couldn't wait to find out what happened to them. The wording and style of the story was descriptive and captivating without being verbose. There are many unexpected twists and turns to this story which added to its superb quality. I think John Searles did a fantastic job on his first published novel. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    At last someone has written a novel that I couldn't put down. Searles has done a wonderful job with his debut novel. The story was so real as were the characters. I can't remember the last time I read a book this fast. It was very enjoyable. For anyone who is interested in great writing pick up Searles' Boy Still Missing won't be sorry!