Missing Mom

Missing Mom

by Joyce Carol Oates


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Nikki Eaton, single, thirty-one, sexually liberated, and economically self-supporting, has never particularly thought of herself as a daughter. Yet, following the unexpected loss of her mother, she undergoes a remarkable transformation during a tumultuous year that brings stunning horror, sorrow, illumination, wisdom, and even—from an unexpected source—a nurturing love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060816223
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/22/2006
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 583,482
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

June 16, 1938

Place of Birth:

Lockport, New York


B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Read an Excerpt

Missing Mom

A Novel
By Joyce Oates

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Joyce Oates
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006081621X

Chapter One

mother's day

May 9, 2004. One of those aloof-seeming spring days: very sunny but not very warm.

Gusts of wind rushing down from Lake Ontario in mean little skirmishes like hit-and-run. A sky hard-looking as blue tile. That wet-grassy smell lifting from the neat rectangular front lawns on Deer Creek Drive.

In patches lilac bushes were blooming up and down the street. Vivid glowing-purple, lavender like swipes of paint.

At 43 Deer Creek, my parents' house, where Mom lived alone now that Dad had died, there were too many vehicles parked in the driveway and at the curb. My brother-in-law's Land Rover, my Aunt Tabitha's old black hearse-sized Caddie, these made sense, but there were others including a low-slung lipstick-red sports car shaped like a missile.

Who did Mom know, who'd drive such a car?

Damned if I wanted to meet him. (Had to be a him.)

My mother was always introducing me to "eligible bachelors." Since I was involved with an ineligible man.

It was like Mom to invite people outside the family for Mother's Day. It was like Mom to invite people who were practically strangers into her house.

I parked the car across the street. I'd begun to whistle. It seemed to tamp down my adrenaline, whistling when I was in danger of becoming over-excited. My father had whistled a lot around the house.

Mother's Day: I was bringing Mom a present so soft, so gossamer-light it seemed to have no weight but lay across my outstretched arms like something sleeping. I'd spent a frustrating half-hour wrapping it in rainbow tin foil, crisscrossing the foil with multi-colored yarns instead of ribbon; I had a vision of the sort of wild/funny/funky look I wanted for the gift, and had to settle for this cross between New Age and Kindergarten. I'd taken a half-day off from work to find an appropriate gift for my mother who presented a riddle to her grown daughters, for she seemed in need of nothing.

Anyway, nothing we could give her.

We'd wanted to take Mom out, of course. My sister Clare and me. Why not, for once, a Mother's Day meal in elegant surroundings, the Mt. Ephraim Inn for instance. No need for Mom to prepare one of her complicated meals, work herself into a state of nerves inviting guests at the last minute like a train hooking on extra cars, careening and swerving along the tracks!

No need. Except of course Mom resisted. Maybe when Dad had been alive, if he'd insisted on taking her out she'd have consented, but now Dad was gone, there was just Clare and me hoping to persuade our mother to behave reasonably.

You know how I love to cook. This is the nicest Mother's Day present you girls can give me, my family visiting and letting me cook for them.

Then, vehemently as if protecting her innocent/ignorant daughters from being swindled Pay prices like that for food? When I can prepare a meal for us for a fraction of the cost, and better?

There were three ways into Mom's house: front door, side door, through the garage. Most days I used the side door, that opened directly into the kitchen.

The door to which Mom had affixed little bells that tinkled merrily, like a shopkeeper's door, when you pushed it open.

"Ohhh Nikki! What have you done with your hair!"

First thing Mom said to me. Before I was through the doorway and into the kitchen. Before she hugged me stepping back with this startled look in her face.

I would remember the way Mom's voice lifted on hair like the cry of a bird shot in mid-flight.

Mom had a round childlike face that showed every emotion clear as water. Her skin was flushed as if windburnt, her eyes were wide-open greeny-amber. Since Dad's death she'd become a darting little hummingbird of a woman. Her shock at my appearance was such, I'd have sworn what I heard her say was What have you done with my hair?

Innocently I said I thought I'd told her, I was having my hair cut?


Meaning, what an understatement!

I was thirty-one years old. Mom was fifty-six. We'd been having these exchanges for almost three decades. You'd have thought we were both accustomed to them by now, but we didn't seem to be. I could feel Mom's quickened heartbeat like my own.

This time, the situation was pretty tame. I hadn't run away from home as I'd done as a teenager, or, worse yet, returned home abruptly and unexpectedly from college refusing to explain why. I hadn't announced that I was engaged to a young man my parents scarcely knew, nor even that I'd broken off the engagement. (Twice. Two very different young men.) I hadn't quit my current job in a succession of boring jobs. Hadn't "gone off " with a not-quite-divorced man nor even by myself cross-country in a rattletrap Volkswagen van to backpack in the Grand Tetons, in Idaho. All I'd done was have my hair cut punk-spiky style and darkened to a shade of inky-maroon that, in certain lights, glared iridescent. No strand of hair longer than one inch, shaved at the sides and back of my head. You could say this was a chic-druggie look of another era or you could say that I looked like someone who'd stuck her finger into an electric socket.

Mom smiled bravely. It was Mother's Day after all, there were guests in the other room. Wasn't Gwen Eaton known in Mt. Ephraim, New York, in the Chautauqua Valley seventy miles south of Lake Ontario, as uncomplaining, unself-pitying, good-natured and good-hearted and indefatigably optimistic?

Hadn't her high school nickname been Feather?

"Well, Nikki! You'd be a beauty, no matter if you were bald."

Rising now on her tiptoes to give me a belated hug. Just a little harder than ordinary, to signal how she loved me even more, because I was a trial to her.


Excerpted from Missing Mom by Joyce Oates Copyright © 2005 by Joyce Oates.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Missing Mom 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a huge Oates fan--I've read almost all of her books--and can honestly say that this is one of her best. It ranks up there with We Were the Mulvaneys, Them, The Falls, and Blonde. What surprised me were the refreshingly ordinary characters and the entirely believable narrative. Somehow, one always expects extremes in Oates' stories and this one is simply and beautifully about a daughter suffering the loss of her mom. It felt like a really personal story. I highly recommend it.
TriviaDream More than 1 year ago
Between the title and the cover, it is easy to see this book as just slightly heavier-than-usual chick-lit fare. Which would be a bummer, because the literary-minded man would be missing a good and touching novel by a prolific but quality writer. This book is my introduction to Oates, whom I only previously read in short story anthologies. I loved it. It might be because I have lost my mother (okay, ten years ago, but it still hurts) and can relate to many of the feelings and actions described here. I know of the debate as to how "great" Oates may be, and this book is not swimming with a lot of the "big themes" that many serious literature buffs (including myself) like in their "great writers." But I do harbor a soft spot in my reading list and heart for novelists that do tackle the personal issues, like Anne Tyler and Oates, and do it so well. If they translated better to the big screen, they might be better known, so until then, guys like me will just have to secretly peek over at Oprah's list once in a while and find books like this that moves a reader without getting overly sappy--as Oprah's list can sometimes get. (Sorry, ladies.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Missing Mom, Oates introduced us to an ordinary woman, Gwen Eaton, a 56-year-old housewife in Mount Ephraim, N.Y. Gwen's untimely death in a suburban small town impacts the lives of many, most especially her two grown daughters, Nikki and Clare. Even though this is fiction, I absolutely identified with the experiences of Nikki and Clare as they dealt with the loss of their mother. I've read other books by this author and I actually thought this was better than her previous works.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having lost my mom some years ago, I totally identified with some of the comments made in this book. To me, this is the best book among the last few that Joyce Carol Oates has written. She is an amazing writer to me. She captures the human condition perfectly.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first of Joyce Carol Oates books I have actually wanted to read all the way through - I have had to force my way through some of the others and even given up on one or two. Usually her style irritates me for some reason but I found this intriguing for the emotion and as a subject very rarely explored. Deeply flawed, yet realisticly so, the characters and relationships have an honesty that is appealing and irritating at the same time. I'd recommend you at least try it.
BALE on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Joyce Carol Oates, but this is not one of my favorites. Her work is usually full of conflicting and surprising details with creative twists and turns that effectively play off one another. This one just sort of plodded along without her usual depth or intensity. I have to wonder if she wrote this after her mother died and if this was her way of expressing her feelings - a cathartic venture? If so, I hope it served its purpose, to this extent.
kkhughes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great down-to-earth book. A real book about the emotions of losing someone tragically and suddenly. A reminder to live for the moment.
jlouise77 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didnt really care for this book. I thought a lot of the characters were under developed and I didnt like the main character. Very hard reading for me!
THEPRINCESS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story about the effects of a mother's murder on two very different sisters is told from the point of view of the "errant" sister. She's the one who wanted to get away, and did. Now she is expected to help with the aftermath. Interesting twists, turns and changes in several relationships develop as the sisters deal with the aftermath in their own ways. I enjoyed how she approached the effect of the death on each of the girls and thought it was a very good interpretation of a difficult event.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As with all of JCO's novels, there is much more to this book than I originally assumed after reading the first few chapters. The dual identities of the characters crept up on me and I looked back on my initial premises with surprise as I continued to read. She draws her readers into character and plot complexities with such mastery. This book is harrowing, heart-rending and, above all, absorbing. `
knitgal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My mom passed away 3 years ago, though I hadbought it quite some time ago I could onlyrecently read it. The mother and daughter'srelationship felt real, an accurate portrayal of the mother/daughter dance and the things often left unsaid.
mbergman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the third novel by Oates I've attempted, & despite her solid reputation, the first I've finished. It's the story of a young (30 or so) woman dealing with the sudden death (by murder) of her mother, four years after her father's death. So it's not that her Mom is missing, as in so much contemporary fiction, but that she's missing her Mom. And that's the story--all 430 pages; it's as simple as that. It's OK, though there are no fully fleshed out, sympathetic male characters.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great book from one of my favourite authors. A daughter's love for her mother is explored as she and her sister come to terms with the shocking murder of their mother and family secrets are laid bare in the process. An intimate protrait of a small community reeling in the wake of a devastating crime. Wonderful.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite authors, so I knew I was in for a compelling family drama. This is a story of a young woman coping with the murder of her mother. The characters aren't perfect; they are very real people. This book didn't evoke the stong emotions in me that some other Oates novels have, but it was a moving story about family relationships.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hmmm - what to say about a book that I picked up, read, put down, picked up...for 5 months? I can say that I actually liked the characters - which is rare for me when it comes to JCO. I really got involved in the story...once I hit page 358. Only at that point did I feel like the main character, Nikki, was actually trying to get a sense of who her mother was as a person. Only then did I start to feel some of Nikki's grief as she realized her mother was lost to her forever. My rating of 4 stars applies mostly to those last 76 pages. (Oh - and the scene where Nikki finds her mother's body - that scene would rate 4.5 stars. Absolutely gripping.)
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bookwormcf More than 1 year ago
Joyce Carol Oates never disappoints. Her characters are so real life you feel you are living her story. I am an avid reader and I would have to say she is one of my favorite authors.
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