Tag Archives: adult character studies

The Monday Book: SONGS FOR THE MISSING by Stewart O’Nan

I am a sucker for great characters. This story follows a family whose oldest daughter disappears. It sounds like a thriller.

What it really is, becomes a psychological study of grief and priorities in a working class family that has to slowly, VERY slowly, come to grips with uncertainty. Their bottom line? You don’t accept uncertainty. You break yourself into pieces to end it. And it still might not end.

The writing is tight and an odd juxtaposition of almost newspaper style and lyricism. I found myself pausing at times to enjoy his construction, which is saying something when the characters are so well done. Moments like this not-all-together-flattering opinion of the landscape. The sins of the Midwest: flatness, emptiness, a necessary acceptance of the familiar. Where is the romance in being buried alive? In growing old?

Dad won’t give up; he gets in the police’s way and follows up even the most ridiculous leads – because how do you evaluate ridiculous when you’re desperate?

Mom is coping quietly, at home, and drinking way too much and trying to protect her younger daughter–including protecting the child from her, the mom. She recognizes way too many things and keeps quiet about them as her husband leaves and returns, seeking leads. And as her younger daughter tries so hard to not become the adult in the family. Their relationship is fascinating.

And Lindsay, the 15-year-old accepts that part of her life has disappeared and part of it is on hold and anything she is going to have from here out is going to be a combination of fight and negotiation, with herself as much as with the world around her that really needs her to be the dutiful grieving little sister. Except, not too much grieving, because, hope. Her older sister may yet be found.

It’s a vibrant character study hidden inside a thriller plot. I thoroughly enjoyed Songs for the Missing.

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