Returning again to the theme of working-class people and their wrenching concerns, Songs for the Missing begins with the suspenseful pace of a thriller, following an Ohio community's efforts to locate a young woman who has gone missing. It soon deepens into an affecting portrait of a family trying desperately to hold onto itself and the memory of a daughter whose return becomes increasingly unlikely. Stark and honest, this is an intimate account of what happens behind the headlines of a very American tragedy.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Date of Birth:February 4, 1961
Place of Birth:Pittsburgh, PA
Education:B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992
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Praise for Songs for the Missing
A Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Best Book of 2008
“This is a novel about loss and healing; a novel that acknowledges the depth of loss and the limits of healing. . . . You could call this novel many things. You could call it a mystery. You could call it a thriller. You could even call it a self-help book, for reading it slowly and carefully causes one to consider love and sorrow in a much larger context than simply that of this well-paced tale. O’Nan has a remarkable ability to pinpoint the ways in which hope and suffering are intertwined. . . . This is a fine, absorbing book. It’s easy to imagine that O’Nan is on a kind of mission to restore a simple, true sense of humanity to the novel: a worthy goal, indeed.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Some books should come with warnings. That’s not a complaint, at least in the case of Stewart O’Nan’s haunting novel Songs for the Missing, which kept me up most of the night. . . . O’Nan, a former aviation engineer, describes emotional roller coasters in prose that’s remarkably taut and precise.”
—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today
“Songs for the Missing has a plot that is deceptively easy to summarize, but the book has a mood so subtle that only first-rate fiction can evoke it. . . . As we read, we, too, are changed, and in ways we cannot even understand. . . . It’s the sort of experience that reveals why we read in the first place, knowing that the sadness we find inside a book mirrors the sadness always within reach.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Art, like athletics, is all about making it look easy. That’s the special magic behind the work of Stewart O’Nan, a novelist who brings his uncommon gifts to the task of rendering the common world. He writes with quiet precision about people we all know, people in regular jobs with lives we can all recognize, and the result is work that shimmers with verisimilitude. You can forget, for long stretches, that you’re reading fiction, because it feels as if you’re eavesdropping on somebody’s cell phone conversation on the bus. His writing is that true.”
—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
“Too often the face on the milk carton becomes a dimensionless symbol, but by allowing his cast of characters to grow and change and to find their real selves, O’Nan restores humanity even among those whose fate remains in suspended animation.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Stewart O’Nan is a daredevil. . . . In scene after scene, these spare descriptions will make you catch your breath. . . . The world that O’Nan captures thwarts our expectations for cathartic tragedy or gleeful celebration, which makes the story even more devastating.”
—The Washington Post
“The book’s emotional power is undeniable, as each character grieves for Kim, wanting her disappearance to mean something beyond ‘the world’s incoherence.’ In the midst of the search, they elegiacally discover a little of what has been missing among themselves.”
—Don Lee, The Boston Globe
“O’Nan also sensitively observes the fraying and deepening of relationships during trauma and the unexpected ways it can change people.”
—The Seattle Times
“At the heart of Stewart O’Nan’s powerful fiction is his compassion for ordinary people. . . . With his characteristic spare prose style and his impressively precise use of detail, O’Nan reflects and illuminates life in Kingsville. His major achievement, however, is the intensity of the empathy he conveys to readers for all who knew Kim Larsen.”
—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“Songs for the Missing is anything but an easy read, but it’s a spectacular one. And, like most of O’Nan’s work, one that resolutely draws the reader in and refuses to let go.”
—The Denver Post
“Chilling and honest . . . Like all great writers, O’Nan possesses the ability to place the reader squarely inside the thoughts of his characters. In Songs for the Missing it may be an ultimately nightmarish place no parent, sibling or friend ever wants to be. But you won’t regret that O’Nan put you there.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“O’Nan’s novel is an elegant elegy: He has plumbed the depth of the horror no one ever wants to experience, and done it with sympathy, honesty and respect.”
—The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
“Choosing to avoid the what, who and why of Kim’s disappearance, Mr. O’Nan instead paints a nuanced portrait of how people are changed by tragic events and the far-reaching effect a person’s disappearance has on their family and community. Songs for the Missing is an elegantly crafted, memorable book that resonates with sadness.”
“O’Nan writes with great sympathy and perceptiveness, and he really captures the texture of working-class American lives.”
“Riveting . . . Songs for the Missing is an engaging and often excruciating read; it makes vivid our most dreadful thoughts, forcing us to contemplate the kind of thing we like to believe only happens elsewhere. O’Nan uses the filter of fiction along with his razor sharp, unerring eye for local detail to render our darkest and most disturbing nightmares all too real.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Taut prose and matter-of-fact detail enrich this compelling portrait of teenage life in small-town Ohio. . . . Though the author sustains narrative momentum through the conventions of the police procedural, ultimately the novel is 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.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“O’Nan proves that uncertainty can be the worst punishment of all in this unflinching look at an unraveling family. Through shifting points of view . . . 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?”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“O’Nan’s writing is undeniably skillful. . . . The pacing is spotless.”
—The Miami Herald
“What begins as a procedural turns into something more interesting: a mosaic-mirror reflection of the small town that mourns her loss.”
“A page-turner that illustrates the unsettling idea that sometimes answers only raise more questions.”
“Songs for the Missing is the kind of book that makes you wish your flight were longer. . . . After hooking readers with the fact-paced opening, Mr. O’Nan edges away from the easy payoffs of the thriller genre. He resists the clichés of closure and triumph over adversity. Instead, he gives the reader more ordinary satisfaction of characters who confront tragedy and doggedly endure.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“It’s a story as familiar as a photo on a milk carton, as unimaginable as death. It’s also a situation that has been the basis for countless tear-jerking and predictable movies and TV episodes. Not in this novel; Songs for the Missing has an emotional austerity and courage that make it far more moving. . . . One of the great strengths is that very little of what happens then is what you might expect—and yet it rings entirely, heartbreakingly true.”
—St. Petersburg Times
“O’Nan’s use of details . . . give a believable, behind-the-scenes glimpse of what a grieving family must endure. . . . A nuanced portrait.”
“The characters he creates are so lifelike that one tends to forget they are fictional. . . . Many of O’Nan’s books contain a dark element, and Songs for the Missing is one of the most haunting. The writing, as always, is consistently beautiful.”
—The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg)
“O’Nan shifts his point of view . . . and hits each with pointillist accuracy, creating complex portraits of each individual as well as the shifting mood of the town itself. Most impressive, however, is the precision with which O’Nan conveys the transformation of a family’s fresh terror into a kind of quotidian torture. . . . O’Nan creates his narrative tension out of the relationships between his multilayered characters. There is none of the easy sensationalism here that his subject might suggest and not a single wasted sentence. Powerful, honest and at times elegiac, this absorbing and masterfully written novel is not to be missed.”
“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.”
“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.”
SONGS FOR THE MISSING
Stewart O’Nan is the author of fourteen novels, including The Odds; Emily, Alone; and Last Night at the Lobster, as well as several works of nonfiction, including, with Stephen King, the bestselling Faithful. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.
ALSO BY STEWART O’NAN
Table of Contents
Praise for Songs for the Missing
About the Author
Description of the Person, When Last Seen
Another Kind of Lie
Nonfamily Abduction Sample
The Right to Disappear
Answers to Name
Hello, My Name Is
Stop, Look & Listen
The Motorist’s Prayer
The Loser’s Bracket
The Last Time
The Long Weekend
Where She Was
The Advanced Stages
America’s Most Wanted
Being the Cup
Catch and Release
The Killer Next Door
The Grateful Parents
There’s No Place Like Home
For Trudy and Caitlin and Stephen
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
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 on-ramp 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.
The Conoco was an oasis of light, drawing cars off the highway like the muffleheads that fluttered against the windows. Drivers came in squinting and rubbing their necks, stopping on the mat inside the door as if this was all new to them, and too much, the bright aisles of candies and chips overloading their brains so they couldn’t read the sign directly in front of them.
They blinked at her, apologetic. “Where are the—?”
Fifty, a hundred times a night. She pointed her whole arm like a ghost.
“It’s true,” Nina said. “The more you drive, the dumber you get.”
“Thank you, thank you, Sam I Am.”
The living dead had bad breath. They bought coffee and soda and water, cigarettes and gum, Tootsie Pops and jerky, anything to get them to the next stop. In line they nodded their heads and mouthed the lyrics to the dinosaur pop that played endlessly inside and out, a fiendish commercial-free satellite feed pieced together, it seemed, by U2 and the Doobie Brothers. They paid double what they would at the Giant Eagle and were grateful when she took a penny from the little dish to cover them.
“Thanks a lot, Angie.”
“Thanks a lot, Angie,” Nina mocked, acting retarded, nuzzling her and flicking her tongue near her ear.
“Eww. Did you smell him?”
“He wanted to pet you and hug you and love you.”
“No, that’s you.”
“Don’t tell Hinch.”
The creepiest were the old guys who bought condoms and wanted to joke about it like they were on the same team. There was a regular from down the county Nina christened Fat Joe-Bob who must have weighed three hundred pounds and wore a chunky gold chain and the same black Steeler sweatpants year-round.
“I don’t think he actually uses them,” Nina said. “You know, the normal way?”
“Maybe he’s married.”
“Ow, my eyes!” Nina said, covering them. “I’m not supposed to get fatfuck in them.”
Eight hours in a freezing glass box. Even Nina couldn’t make it go fast enough.
Their customers weren’t all strangers. Friends and classmates visited, sliding their fake IDs across the counter for them to inspect. Nina thought it was funny that Kim felt guilty, since they both had their own. For Kim it wasn’t the fear of getting busted so much as the feeling she was being taken advantage of, but hours later, when they caught up with their friends again, she drank her fair share of beers and was thankful she didn’t have to pay for them.
Every night they fought a war against boredom and lost. She thought their bodies should have adapted to swing shift after a whole month. Nina thought it had something to do with the fluorescents, the flat, shadowless wash of light that brought out the veins in their hands, their palms splotchy as raw hamburger. It was like living under water, two captured mermaids displayed in a tank.
And then, with half an hour left, they rallied, as if, the day nearly done, they were just now waking up. They wiped down the counters by the Icee machine and the microwave and restocked the coffee station, getting the place ready to hand over to Doug-o and Kevin. Whose turn was it to do the men’s room?
From there it was like a countdown. They took turns fixing their makeup and brushing their hair in the dinged steel mirror of the women’s room while the other manned the front. When graveyard punched in they hung up their tops—“’night, Angie” “’night, Sam”—then headed for their getaway cars, parked side by side.
Everyone’s schedule was different. In town Elise had already tipped out at Pape’s while J.P. was helping close the Giant Eagle. Hinch and Marnie still had another hour to go at the DQ, so they met there. It was convenient. They could leave their cars in the lot, backed up against the cemetery. The sheriff lived right across the road; no one would bother them.
Her new curfew was two o’clock, a compromise neither side liked. Her mother worked in the emergency room and thought everyone was going to die in a car crash. Her father was calmer, framing his argument in terms of insurance premiums. She needed to remember (as if she could forget), she was still living under their roof.
Part of it was J.P., who was new, and laid-back, into frisbee and hanging out, not her usual confident jock. His mother had raised him by herself, another mark against him. It didn’t help that they lived back behind the harbor in the same neighborhood her parents had fled a dozen years ago, and that he drove a crappy Cavalier and had hair down to his shoulders. Her mother blamed J.P. for Kim’s tattoo, even though he was the one squeamish about needles. Her parents didn’t believe her when she said he was harmless, and actually very sweet. If anything, she was a bad influence on him, but all they saw was the loser who might ruin her future.
“Just let us know where you’re going to be,” her mother said, as if that was the least she could do. What she meant was, stay out of the police log in the Star-Beacon so you don’t hurt your father’s business. It could have been the family motto: All a realtor has is his good name.
“We’ll probably go to the beach if it’s nice,” Kim said, and it wasn’t a lie. They might hit a couple of dives on the way, but by the end of the night they would be sitting in the cold sand around a driftwood fire, listening to the soft wash of the waves. If it rained they’d probably go to Elise’s and play pool in her basement.
“Let us know if you go anywhere else. You’ve got your phone.”
Her mother didn’t really mean this. She needed to be in bed by ten at the latest to get up for work. Her father was the one who waited up for Kim, though that had changed since graduation. Weekends she used to find him asleep on the couch with the TV on mute and the clicker in his lap; now that she was out every night he turned off all the lights but the ones in the back hall and the stairwell, making a path to her room.
Her parents’ door was closed. So was Lindsay’s. Closing hers just completed the set.
Alone in bed she read Madeleine L’Engle and Lloyd Alexander—otherworldly fantasies she’d loved as a girl, as if trying to call back that lost time. Even if J.P. and Nina had had to drive her home, she could convince herself she wasn’t tired. There was nothing to get up for, and in the quiet warmth of the covers she fought the spins by concentrating on the sentences snaking down the page and in the morning woke up with a killer headache, the room too bright. She pulled her pillow over her head and made it all go away.
That day she got up around eleven, to Cooper licking. He’d butted the door open and was beached with his head under her dresser. “Stop,” she said, “Cooper, stop,” and then couldn’t get back to sleep. To make up for it she took a leisurely shower, closing her eyes beneath the spray.
On her dry-erase board her mother had left a message to please take Lindsay out driving, and a little cartoon car with two heads in it. Lindsay had her permit but needed someone with a license to go with her, and her mother conveniently didn’t have time.
“Fuck me,” Kim said, because everyone was going swimming at the river. If she’d known she would have gotten up earlier.
Lindsay was downstairs, lying on the couch, watching Bubble Boy for the millionth time, laughing before the actors could deliver their lines. They were three years apart, just close enough so they overlapped her last year at the high school. Lindsay was the baby, and the brain. She still had braces, and painful-looking zits she tried to cover with foundation. She hung around with the other nerdy girls in the wind ensemble and the robotics club. Last spring she and her friends had camped out overnight to be first in line for the new Star Wars. Since then Nina called her Obi Wan Ke-No-Boobs. Kim didn’t like to think of her alone here with their parents, as if she was abandoning her to an infinite limbo.
Today, though, she was a pain. Kim knew she was being selfish—exactly what her mother had trumped her with in their most recent battle—but that only made it worse.
“Let’s go,” she told her. “Put your shoes on.”
“It’s almost over.”
“Just pause it. I’ve got shit to do.”
“Okay, you don’t have to be a jerk about it.”
“I’m not the one crying to Mom every five seconds.”
“I didn’t!” Lindsay said. “It was Dad who said—”
“Whatever, just come on. I need to be back by one.”
Lindsay brushed past her and ran upstairs.
“Where are you going?”
“I need my glasses.”
Her answer made Kim shake her head. Who wore glasses anymore?
In the driveway she watched Lindsay squinting at the idiot lights of the dash, trying to remember the steps in the right order. Her hand paused over the shifter like a novice trying to defuse a bomb. She’d brought her manual, like that might help.
“Emergency brake,” Kim said.
“Then do it.”
She was tentative backing up, leaning to peer in her side mirror, drifting toward the mailbox. Kim turned off the radio so she could concentrate.
“Straighten it out. Good. Now give it some gas.”
They shadowed the railroad tracks, practicing right-hand turns in the rundown blocks off Buffalo. The streets back here were still the original red brick, frost-heaved and dotted with ugly patches of asphalt. The houses were rentals, sagging Italianates and vinyl-sided duplexes with rusty wire fences threatening tetanus. Her father saw them as the enemy in the endless struggle to keep up Kingsville’s property values, blaming the landlords more than the tenants, as if ownership somehow made them more responsible. She and Nina had waited outside late one night before graduation while J.P. and Hinch went in. Everybody knew where to go.
Now, in the middle of the day, husky mothers in shorts sat smoking and drinking sodas on their stoops while their kids chased one another around the sun-browned yards. They marked the Chevette each time it swung wide and then corrected, followed it like cops, and Kim told Lindsay to take the underpass to the high school.
She was surprised to find so many cars in the lot. Like idiots, the football team was out practicing in the heat. One mother had brought a lawn chair to watch them, an umbrella attached to make her own personal shade. Down at the empty end, Lindsay parked and parked. Kim had done the same drills with her father, and imitated his patience, praising her when she fitted the car between the lines (though she’d done it in the company wagon, nearly twice the size of the Chevette), calmly calling for the brake when she seemed headed for the curb.
“You been going out with Dad a lot?”
“Not a lot. Why?”
“You’re doing really good.”
“Thanks.” Lindsay was puzzled, as if this might be a set-up. Kim hadn’t been very nice to her lately. She’d complained about it to her mother, who as usual did nothing.
“Let’s go do the drive-thru at the DQ.” Only after the offer was out did Kim realize what she was saying. The lane that wrapped around the Dairy Queen was narrow, and two cement-filled steel posts guarded the window.
“I thought you had ‘shit’ to do.”
“I do, but it’s lunchtime. My treat.”
It took forever to get there, and then there was a line.
“I can’t do this,” Lindsay said.
“Let the brake off and inch up behind this guy. You’ve got room on my side if you need it.”
Once, when Kim was just beginning, she veered too close to some parked cars and without a word her father grabbed the wheel with one hand and tugged it till they were going straight. She resisted the urge now. Lindsay craned her chin toward the windshield, trying to see over the hood.
“Just follow him,” Kim said. “He’s bigger than you are.”
At the order board she braked too hard, jerking them forward.
“You have to roll your window down.”
“What the hell do you want?” the speaker blurted—Marnie, pointing at them from the cockpit of the pick-up window. She didn’t see it was Lindsay driving till they pulled up. They were so far away that Lindsay had to open her door to grab the bag.
“Nice job there,” Marnie said.
“Don’t take that shit from her,” Kim said, and stuck out her tongue.
“Don’t die in a terrible fiery accident,” Marnie said.
Eating fries while driving was too advanced, so they found a shady spot at the back of the lot and turned on the radio. The trees inside the spiked iron fence were old, their roots poking through the dry grass like knucklebones. Sparrows hopped among the faded decorations, wreaths on green wire stands and flags left over from Memorial Day. Lindsay squeezed ketchup into the top of her clamshell so they could share. They sat side-by-side, dipping and chewing. They didn’t spend time together like this, and she was self-conscious, not wanting to ruin it.
“Got a game tonight?”
“Yeah,” Lindsay said, downcast, as if she didn’t want to be reminded.
“Who you playing?”
“D’know. We suck anyway.”
“That’s not what Dad says.”
“You’ve never seen us.” Kim had played for him too, enduring his relentless overcoaching as Edgewater Properties sank to its proper spot at the bottom of the league. But Kim could actually play. Lindsay had inherited her cleats but that was it. With her knobby knees and braces she was terrified of the ball, and dreaded every game.
“I thought you were supposed to be going to the playoffs.”
“Everybody goes to the playoffs now. It’s like the Special Olympics.”
“How many more games you got?”
“Five and then the playoffs. So six.”
They ate to Weezer and Franz Ferdinand, pinching the soggy ends of their burgers, trying not to drip on anything. Kim finished first, and though she was afraid it would sound lame and melodramatic, she also knew this might be the perfect opportunity, while Lindsay’s mouth was full.
“You know, dude,” she said, “I’m really going to miss you.”
“No you won’t,” Lindsay said, tipping her chin up so she didn’t spew lettuce everywhere.
“You don’t think so.”
“You’ll be too busy with your new friends and everything.”
She didn’t have to say “Just like now.” Okay, that was fair, but she would miss Linds too. Couldn’t both things be true?
“You can come visit me.”
“I don’t think Mom’ll let me.”
“Maybe not this year but next year. You’re going to have to start looking at schools then anyway. Not that you’ll be looking at Bowling Green.”
“God, I hope not,” Lindsay said—a joke, or it was supposed to be, so she was relieved when Kim laughed. Deep down Lindsay knew Kim was disappointed with Bowling Green—as were her parents, though they never said anything. Case Western had been her first choice, but she didn’t even make the waiting list. Nina was going to Denison, Elise had been early decision at Kenyon. While Lindsay felt bad for Kim, she vowed to herself she would do better than any of them.
They were both finished and it was nearly one. Kim turned off the radio. “Ready?”
Lindsay nodded, serious, sitting upright like a test pilot. She had to use both hands to depress the button of the emergency brake.
“Come on, Muscles,” Kim said.
They drove back past the hospital with its helipad off in the corner of the lot. Her mother’s Subaru was in its usual spot, a fold-out silver reflector protecting the dash from the sun. In the ER, she would be sitting at her window, patiently taking down someone’s information, checking off boxes, the queen of clipboards. By the time she got home Kim would be at work. The only time they saw each other now was on weekends. Lindsay thought it was easier. Since the end of school they’d been fighting over J.P. and her drinking and breaking curfew. Her mother was just freaked out about her leaving.
Excerpted from "Songs for the Missing"
Copyright © 2009 Stewart O'Nan.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
"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."
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.
Reading Group Guide
Eighteen-year-old Kim Larsen has her whole future ahead of her. Just out of high school, she’s spending one last summer in Kingsville, Ohio, lounging around at the lake with her boyfriend J.P. and her friends Nina and Elise, working at a local minimart, partying at night, and preparing for college in the fall. But one night, Kim and her Chevette disappear without warning and without a trace. Her parents call the police who tell them that many missing teenagers are, in fact, runaways. Everyone in Kim’s circle agrees that she would never do that, not when she was about to leave for college and begin her adult life in earnest. They suspect the truth is far more sinister.
While the police begin their investigation, Kim’s parents set up massive search parties, arrange television interviews and organize public appearances pleading for information, rallying the town around their cause. After being questioned by the police, J.P., Nina, and Elise yield some insight into Kim’s darker, private life, but even these revelations offer no leads as to where Kim might be. As the days and then months pass, the chances of finding Kim alive grow dimmer. The Kingsville community must go on with the business of day-to-day living and soon Kim becomes just another face on a missing persons flyer.
Meanwhile, the Larsens privately grapple with the loss and uncertainty that has shaken their family. Kim’s mother, Fran, energetically dedicates herself to finding her daughter, spending every waking hour on the search and discovering a new sense of purpose in the work. Kim’s dad suffers from insomnia and helplessness, and feels himself growing apart from his constantly busy wife. Kim’s younger sister, Lindsay, always the smarter but more awkward sibling, experiences her grief as anger and feels even more alienated than before, no longer sure how to define herself now that Kim is gone.
In his twelfth novel, following the critically acclaimed bestseller Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan demonstrates an uncanny ability to delve into the lives of ordinary, well-meaning people confronting tragedy. Here, in a story of a girl gone missing, he finds the quieter emotional narrative behind the sensational events. O’Nan’s clear, sharp prose and tremendous empathy yields flawed yet heroic characters whose every word and gesture rings true. Defying genre, Songs for the Missing is a remarkable novel that begins as a thriller and widens into an elegiac examination of family, love, and longing.
ABOUT STEWART O'NAN
Stewart O’Nan is the author of eleven novels. His most recent, Last Night at the Lobster, was lauded as one of the top ten fiction books of 2007 by Entertainment Weekly. He has also written an award-winning story collection, In the Walled City, and two works of nonfiction, including Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, a collaboration with Stephen King. He lives with his family in Connecticut.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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 friends...how 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.
It is an interesting story about a family whose daughter has been kidnapped. The story starts with the last hours of this young adult and her friends and her family's normal life before the abduction. After that, the main characters way of changing their attitudes, feelings and adaptation to a life without Kim are carefully worded. There is no craving for sensation, on the contrary the story shows how people come to terms with the incomprehensible act.
Although the subject matter is depressing, the writing is not. Stewart O'Nan has written another winner (after Last Night at the Lobster). An 18-year-old girl goes missing in a small town in Ohio in the summer before she is to go off to college. O'Nan tells us the story of the search and the aftermath through the eyes of each member of her family and her close friends. Every character rings true and we feel we are living through it all with them, inhabiting their minds and learning their inner thoughts. An excellent story, highly recommended - this type of writing is why I love to read.
What if a small-town girl, in the summer before she goes off to college, were to disappear? Stewart O¿Nan¿s answer: Songs for the Missing, an exploration of the effects of such a disappearance on the girl¿s family, friends, and northern-Ohio community.The Songs are a series of third-person narratives, alternating among the girl¿s family and friends. Their markedly distant (unemotional) style evokes television news coverage of similar real-life cases, and for me, permitted a mostly intellectual connection with the characters. While I made assumptions about their emotions and motivations based on my life experiences, there was little surprising or unfamiliar to lead me to new understandings. It was a pleasant read -- the first third provided an interesting documentary, the second a more engaging story, and the third a sudden and too-tidy wrap-up -- but in the end, I came away with little new from the experience.[Coincidentally, Anita Shreve's upcoming novel, Testimony, will be released within a week of O'Nan's, and I happened to read ARCs of them in proximity. Shreve's examination of the precipitating factors and aftermath of a sex scandal at a private Vermont high school is also accomplished through numerous, alternating points of view -- but in contrast, was revelatory and is highly recommended.]
In Songs for the Missing, Stewart O'Nan allows us only one stunningly ordinary chapter in the life of Kim Larsen before she vanishes without a trace. The one chapter is so barren of clues that we are left just as baffled as the family and friends left behind to dissect how Kim could have disappeared on that last seemingly ordinary day. O'Nan's story, however, is not about Kim. As a matter of fact, Songs for the Missing is not, though it might seem, even a book about finding Kim. Songs for the Missing is a picture of the ordinary people left behind when their daughter, their sister, their friend is just suddenly mysteriously gone.Each character reacts in their own way to Kim's disappearance. Kim's mother, Fran, loses herself and perhaps even the spirit of her daughter in her incessant publicity campaign to continue the search for Kim. Kim's father, Ed, forsakes his job and even sometimes his family as he follows the action of the search, traveling to each new area where leads are discovered to hang flyers and look for himself, unable to return home and simply wait. Kim's sister, Lindsay, retreats in silence to her room where she takes refuge in books, e-mailing, and the family dog, none of which can replace the identity and future that she has been robbed of with the disappearance of her sister. Kim's boyfriend, J.P. and and her best friend, Nina, struggle with some shady what-if involving drugs and an ex-Marine, whose late discovery robs them of the right to even be involved in the search for Kim.The reader is present for about three years during which there are some leads but no real news about Kim, and during which all the people she left behind are forced to consider how long is long enough to feel bereft and when, if ever, it is okay to feel okay again. Without any certain resolution, the characters exist in a purgatory where hope has gradually faded away to be replaced with a nothingness that forces them to re-create themselves in a world without Kim without ever knowing whether she is, indeed, dead, as many suspect or merely gone.Songs for the Missing starts out a mystery and ends up as a penetrating character study of those who lost parts of themselves when they lost Kim. As such, O'Nan's writing shies away from the facts of the investigation in favor of probing the pysches of his characters. As a character study, Songs for the Missing is an undeniable success. Unfortunately, my own curiosity, efforts to pry loose some unnoticed detail that would prove the answer to the mystery, and desire to know the truth about what happened got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. Instead of wanting to know the characters left behind, my mind was focused on what happened to Kim. Because O'Nan skirts those details and offers up an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to the investigation without ever probing the hows or the whys that keep Kim's fictional family up at night, I ultimately felt let down and as if I had missed something that, it turns out, wasn't there to start with. A certain mindset is called upon to appreciate this book, and I wasn't properly in it.That said, O'Nan's writing is crisp and clean and beautifully grapples with the very human emotions faced by the characters in this uncertain situation. Having read Songs for the Missing, I'm certain it won't be the last of O'Nan's books that I will read. Then again, it probably won't be my favorite either.
Best Read For: Personal reading, book club reading, great for discussionsIn a nutshell: Stuart O'Nan has written a fictional book that reads like non-fiction in that it explores the events and emotions experienced by friends, family, neighbors and volunteers as the search for a missing girl progresses, providing the reader with great insight into what experiences might be like surrounding a missing person. I found myself viewing events going on around me a little differently after reading this book, giving a little more thought to what the friends and family of news stories are experiencing.My point of view:A fictional book that seems like a non-fiction documentary. My attention was caught after reading the first chapter - I had to know what happened next! This is the heartwrenching story of a young girl about ready to leave the high school and town she has known all her life to begin her next journey in college, who vanishes.Stewart O'Nan has done a wonderful job of engaging readers so they can gain some insight into what happens when a family member or friend goes missing. He delves into what thoughts go through peoples minds, what processes are followed and why, and the emotional changes taking place in everyones lives, from the younger sister, father, mother, boyfriend, best friend, neighbors, media, etc.Prior to reading this book, I had never really considered just what a family goes through when a member goes missing - this book does a great job of filling in the blanks (speaking as someone who has never gone through a situation like this).This is a thought provoking book that would make a good book club read.
Another winner by O'Nan.Kim Larsen, a recent high school graduate, is having the summer of hanging out with friends in her small Ohio town before they all leave for college.Kim appears for maybe 10 pages in the book. The other pages are devoted to how her disapperance affects her family, his sister, her friends and her boyfriend.Written with beautiful language, O'Nan takes us into the home, the life, and the small town and we live with these people. O'Nan is an exquiste writer, and never lets me down with a wonderful book!
Songs for the Missing is yet another example of Stewart O'Nan's exemplary powers of description and talent.Songs for the Missing, O'Nan's 13th work of fiction, depicts a typical midwestern family dealing with the aftermath of the disappearance of the oldest child, Kim.Songs for the Missing is not a mystery or a crime story, rather it is an in depth character study. Whether Kim is found or not really seems to be besides the point because we all know how these stories typically end in real life. O'Nan adroitly captures the essence of each character in the story and each character seems to really come alive on the page.Although, I have never been to a rural, midwestern town, Mr. O'Nan's ability to write so descriptively made me feel as if I had been to this town and knew it intimately. I felt as if I had driven down the main highway, had a slurpee at the Conoco Gas Station, and went swimming at the lake.While reading Songs for the Missing, you will find yourself so immersed in the trials and travails of Kim's family and friends that you feel as if you have lived their experience with them and will feel sad when the novel ends.
I received this book as part of Barnes and Nobles First Look program.One ordinary summer day between graduation-from-high-school and looking-forward-to-college, Kim Larsen vanished without a trace. This is the story of her family and friends; their struggle with her disappearance from the frantic first hours, to several years later. It¿s by no means an easy story to read although it is compelling. We¿re quickly sucked into a vortex of somewhat flawed but functional ordinary lives as the people surrounding Kim deal with their loss, their hopes, their reality. Unlike a TV drama with answers neatly provided at the end of the hour, mysteries linger on at the book¿s conclusion, just as they often do in real life,All of the characters are very reserved emotionally; at times I longed for one of them to express more feeling than the rare quiet tear over this event which clearly changed their lives forever. While this leaves room for the readers¿ own emotions to be inserted into the story, I found this aspect of the story unsatisfying.Nevertheless, this is a memorable read. I will never again hear the story of a missing person without thinking of their loved ones¿ nightmare and of this book.
I enjoyed this book very much yet I also found it very difficult to read. It brought back memories of the murder of a friend's older sister when I was a child. Although the circumstances were different (my friend's sister was found within days), there were so many parallels to what my friend went through it was eerie. I think Mr. O'Nan handled a troubling subject delicately and still kept the story compelling. I found it hard to put down and felt myself grieving along with the family. I highly recommend this book.
Spoilers*Songs for the Missing by Stuart O'Nan, centers around the disappearance of an 18 year old girl, Kim Larsen. The search for Kim, the falling apart and coming together of her family, and the reactions of her friends seemed to be spot on. Kim's family, while flawed, seemed to me to be very much the typical American family. Her parents loved her, yet were no longer very close to her, and her younger sister felt like a shadow next to her. Kim's father, Ed, was very much the man of action, looking for his lost daughter, and I thought his character was very well executed. Her mom, Fran, seems less sympathetic on the surface, with all the PR opportunities she involves herself in, but she too is simply a person like her husband. She feels compelled to do something, to fix this. She's a woman who feels comfortable fixing problems, so she approaches this problem with that attitude. If she can just figure out the correct direction to take, she believes she can fix this too.It was interesting watching Kim's little sister finally grow into someone other than "Kim's Little Sister". It can be difficult being the brainy, nerdy younger sibling of an attractive and popular girl. Her character was also very well done, she was the good daughter, the reliable daughter, and even though she really wanted to be more like her sister, she seemed to come to grips with herself and to understand that this really was her personality.Much of the book is quite hopeful, but after a while it changes into a novel more about acceptance than hope. Or perhaps I should say, acceptance tinged with hope for any resolution. I knew from the beginning that it wasn't possible for this book to have the happy Hollywood ending I wanted for it. And even though I would have preferred a bit more detail about Kim's death, the unanswered questions in the end were as realistic as the ending itself was. Ultimately it is a story about a family surviving what can only be described as an almost fatal body blow, and learning how to move on. I felt unsatisfied at the conclusion, as if the book wasn't finished all the way. And then I realized that might just be the point the author is making, something like this happening to a family would never be finished, it would never be over. Even after a parent finds their child and buries them, so many questions would remain for that family, that they would carry it with them forever.Good book, thought provoking, makes you want to hug your kids a couple extra times a day and remember to take some time for them.
I cannot imagine one of my sons disappearing into thin air. The panic, the fear, the anger, the questions ¿ it would be all too much to bear. In Songs for the Missing, Stewart O¿Nan tackled this topic head on, and after finishing this page-turner (I finished the book in one day), I was left exhausted and heart-broken. Despite the devastating topic, though, I am glad to have read this spellbinding novel.The story is about the disappearance of Kim Larsen, Kim was pretty, popular and counting the days until she left for college. One afternoon, Kim did not show up for work. It wasn¿t until almost dawn when her parents detected that she was missing. They called the police and the search for Kim was on.Each chapter of Songs for the Missing was written from a different person¿s viewpoint. At first, Kim had her voice until she went missing. Then, her father, mother, sister, boyfriend and best friend each ¿took turns¿ telling about the search, their hope for a positive outcome and how they tried to cope with the day-to-day aspects of living.As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, you saw how each character realized that Kim might not return home. Each character dealt with the grief in different ways. I specifically thought the age-relevance of each character was realistic. The teenagers were equally scared about their fates as the police investigation uncovered drug use; the younger sister dealt with (again) being in her sister¿s shadow; the mother worked furiously, advocating for missing persons; and the father struggled emotionally, financially and psychologically but never wanted to show these ¿weaknesses¿ to his loved ones. Their plight was so realistic and heart breaking. Thanks to O¿Nan¿s superb writing style, you could not help but be drawn to these characters and wonder what happened to Kim. I kept hoping that Kim would be found alive because I wanted these characters to have a ¿happily ever after¿ ending. I was so invested in each one of their lives that their grief was my own.This is my first Stewart O¿Nan book, but it certainly won¿t be my last. His writing style was gripping and the way he drew his characters reminded me of Jodi Picoult. I highly recommend Songs for the Missing to anyone. I don¿t think any reader of literary fiction could be disappointed with this engaging story.
A teenage girl goes missing all of a sudden. The novel deals with this experience from her parents, sister, and friends point of view. I was quickly drawn into the story and didn't want to put the book down. I enjoyed the balance of suspense and feeling like you were in the characters' minds.
Kim Larsen is simply enjoying the summer before she heads off to college - just an all-american teen. Then one day Kim fails to show up for her shift at the local Conoco, and the nightmare for her family begins. The police think she has run away, but her family knows better. They organize search parties and television appearances to bring attention to Kim and her plight. But as the weeks wear on, and the tip line brings in one dead end after another, Kim's family has to face the fear that they least want to voice.O'Nan has done a wonderful job portraying the day-to-day life-cycle of this type of tragedy and its effect on those left behind. When reading the book you get the distinct feeling that this is exactly what it would be like to go about locating your missing daughter. Where the book falls short is in conveying the depth of the emotions the friends and family of this missing child must surely experience once the search parties have gone home and the t.v. cameras have left, which has the effect of consigning the reader to the sidelines to watch the story unfold instead of bringing them right into the midst of it.
This is a very well-written, engaging novel, even if the subject is disturbing. It concerns a girl, Kim Larsen, who goes missing a few weeks before she is due to leave for college. Most of the rest of the book describes in gripping detail the effects on Kim¿s family and friends of not knowing her fate. Chapters alternate taking different perspectives of the protagonists: Fran, Ed (Kim¿s parents), Lindsay, her kid sister, J.P., her most recent boyfriend, and Nina, her closest friend. No matter whose perspective he takes, the author brings to bear just the right emotions and concerns for the age and sex of the character.I never felt disconnected from the characters, especially Lindsay, who goes from age 15 to 18 during the time period of the book. The hopes and fears of the family and friends are articulated so well they become your own.Highly recommended.
I received a copy of this from Barnes & Noble's First Look program. I feel like there is a lot of summary in other reviews, so I won't go into that. The book was good, but didn't really impress me, mainly for two reasons. First, the book bogs down in the middle making it almost impossible to get through. I understand that the author was trying to make the reader feel the frustration and hopelessness of trying to find a missing person, but I was just bored. Second, I became irritated with the lack of detail in the book. As another reviewer commented, the author hints around many things but in the end, the reader is just left wanting. Overall an okay book, but not one I'd highly recommend.
In the summer of her 18th year, Kim Larsen disappears without a trace - leaving behind friends and family who are bewildered and hurting. This is not an unusual story. It is a story we see every day in America - the young women filled with potential disappearing into the darkness of uncertainty. Many are never found. Many are found murdered or raped. It is an old story. Stewart O¿Nan, with his refined and elegant prose, takes this story and makes it unforgettable.Songs for the Missing is about those left behind. It is about relationships and expectations and faith and the very human need to know why and where. The characters in this beautifully written novel include Kim¿s mother Fran, her sister Lindsey (only 15 when Kim goes missing), her father Ed, and friends - J.P., Elise and Nina. Each character deals with Kim¿s disappearance differently, and as the months rolls into years they each come to terms with it in their own unique way. My heart felt broken by Ed - the father who searches relentlessly for the daughter he could not keep safe and who wishes for her to come to him in his dreams.This novel touched my heart, especially because of my own involvement with Search and Rescue. O¿Nan got it perfectly when he describes the searches, the role of law enforcement and the nearly unbearable hope of the lost one¿s family which permeates every search. As the novel unfolds, I found myself immersed in the emotions of the characters, hoping they would find Kim and come to a resolution.O¿Nan has written a tender, sensitive and all too real novel about what happens when a loved one disappears. Highly recommended.
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 friends...how 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.
I must say, I just didn't get this book. The story was OK, the characters were hard to like, and the ending...the ending, don't even get me started on the ending! This book just wasn't my cup of tea. It just didn't tell you alot about what the characters were thinking and their reactions were rather strange/unusual to me. I cry if my dog or cat is missing....their daughter is missing and it is like they are running a campaign. O'well, no more O'Nan for me:)
I think that if you're looking for a fast-paced suspenseful thriller, you may be a bit disappointed in this book. In that respect, the cover description is a little misleading. Though this is a work of fiction, it often felt to me like a nonfiction piece, which is neither good nor bad. I enjoyed this book for the most part, although I think something in me wanted it to be a little more suspenseful. As other reviewers have said, it was more of a character study as the result of a tragic incident. In that respect, it was probably more realistic and representative of what a family & community actually does go through when something like this happens. In all honesty, it was a rather depressing book, but that's to be expected with a subject matter such as this. As for the writing style, I found it simple but beautiful, and wasn't bothered at all by the change in points of view. I'm still puzzling over the ending, in that I'm not sure if that would've been my choice, had I been the writer. Whereas I think the last couple of chapters could've made a larger impact on the reader had they been written differently, I felt that O'Nan rushed the ending and I, as a reader, felt rather let-down.