#78 ~ Songs for the Missing

June 17, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Family, First Look Book Club, Parenting Dilemmas | 17 Comments
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Cover for Songs of the Missing

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

This novel tells the story of a family, a group of friends, and a small town that comes to grips with the disappearance of Kim Larsen, a vivacious and popular recent graduate preparing to leave her home in the Midwest for college. One evening she disappears on the way to work without a clue as to what happened other than that her car, a beloved Chevette, is missing as well. With very little to go on, the Larsens, Kim’s friends and the entire community pull together to find her, but without leads, it’s her past and what she left behind that threatens to break the bonds that were created or solidified by Kim’s life. Songs of the Missing is well written novel an engaging novel that proves how powerful reading can be when an author stays true to his or her characters.

There are many other good and engrossing novels, such as The Lovely Bones, that deal with lost and murdered children. What makes this book different is the way that the story’s narration shifts between characters from chapter to chapter and sometimes even within the same chapter. Over the course of her last days and the events after her disappearance, we hear from Kim, her parents, Ed and Fran Larsen, her sister Lindsey, her best friend Nina and her boyfriend J.P. With a lesser author this could have been disastrous, but O’Nan’s storytelling is as authentic as the voice of each of his narrators. As a result, there is an almost complete feeling of how the disappearance of a loved one eats at people at every stage. We see how terror drives Ed and Fran work around the clock when Kim is first missing while it is guilt that drives J.P. to do the same. We see how having no leads can cause a group of people to move from supporting each other to blaming and punishing each other. We see how fickle a community can be when a missing daughter is no longer the lead story on the news. A child’s disappearance is heartbreaking on so many levels.

What makes this novel most interesting is that the reader never learns those things that the narrators can not or will not admit to themselves. We get glimpses of what J.P. and Nina were hiding, but never all the details. When that part of Kim’s disappearance is revealed, Fran and Ed cut J.P. and Nina almost completely out of their lives as if doing so will cut those deeply unsettling things about their daughter from their minds just as sharply. I find as a reader it makes me feel uncomfortable not knowing what every little detail. I kept wondering if I had read a section too fast and missed something, and I would go back to check and find that I hadn’t. What a perfect way to create a connection between the reader and the characters. Everyone is desperately searching for Kim, fearing that if they only looked harder or if they only looked smarter that they would find what they looking for.

In preparation for reading Songs of the Missing, the third novel I have read as part of Barnes and Noble’s First Look Book Club, I picked up Last Night at the Lobster after Lisa from Books on the Brain suggested it. I am thankful to have now read both, because I can sense and appreciate O’Nan’s range. Unlike other prolific authors, he does not recycle story lines or continuously use the same hook or edge to write his novels. He is a talented man who clearly challenges himself with his work. I would recommend O’Nan over most modern authors and I look forward to reading many more of his novels.

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  1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for the mention! I too was sort of frustrated not to know the entire ‘secret’ the friends were holding back. We got clues but never a full explanation, which I really wanted. I didn’t mention that in my review (I just didn’t think of it when I wrote it) but it definitely bugged me.

    Great review, as always!!

  2. I get to review this one as well….I’ll give you a shout when my review is up!

  3. wait, is that #78 for this year!?!?!?!

  4. I thought it was great too, I’m going to have to read some of O’Nan’s other work. I’ve finally got my review written (it will probably post while I’m gone next week) so I can read other people’s reviews. I’m glad I got it done in time to read your great review!

  5. What I love about the book blogging community is that we each have our own focus. By reading what other people have to say, it expands on your own experience. I enjoyed reading Lisa’s review of the book and can’t wait to read Bethany and Dev’s.

    78 for this year? Ha! :) That is 78 since January 1, 2007. I numbered the books as I went along toward my goal of reading 52 last year, adn I decided to keep on going with it. Now the numbers just indicate the order in which they were read since I started this blog.

  6. I just posted my review today! I really loved this book. This is a fantastic review.

  7. I’ve read several reviews of this and it is definitely on my potential list. If you enjoyed this one, I would suggest checking out “The Strength of the Sun” by Catherine Chidgey. It’s about a missing girl and what her parents and others go through. It’s told from various perspectives and by the end you definitely know what happened to her.

    The other I would suggest is “The Mercy of Thin Air” by Ronlyn Domingue. This is a bit more like “The Lovely Bones” – it’s told by the ghost of a young woman who died in an accident (there is never any question that it was an accident) and tells the story of both the impact of her death and her continuing existence on those around her. Now I think I might have to go resurrect my review and post it…

  8. I have another good murdered child book that I just finished. It’s entitled “Watch Me Disappear” by Jill Dawson. You’ll probably have to interlibrary loan it, but it’s definitely worth a read.

    I definitely need to read this one too!

  9. Such great suggestions for future reading! Thanks so much!

    **semi-spoiler alert**

    I’ve been reading other people’s reviews of this book as well as posts on Barnes and Noble about the last chapters. Many feel that the ending was rushed. That’s not how I felt. The emphasis on the novel was the search and the holding on to hope as time went on. It seemed right to me that things would speed up when there was resolution. You just don’t talk as much about those kinds of things and you try not to dwell on them. I’ll be curious to read continuing reviews.

  10. While I had a few problems with it, I agree that O’Nan is a very talented writer :)

  11. It is on my TBR pile. Cant wait to read it great review:)

  12. One of the things I LOVE about Stewart O’Nan’s writing is that each book is a unique and separate story. He really doesn’t recycle anything — not themes or hooks or characters. It’s always a new world to experience for the first time.

  13. You’re right about Stewart O’Nan. I enjoyed both of his books, but Last Night at the Lobster in no way “prepared” me for Songs for the Missing – and that is not a complaint. It’s nice to know you can get a quality story from an author without knowing what kind of reading experience you are going to have.

  14. […] by C.W. Gortner, The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George, Trauma by Patrick McGrath, Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, Aberrations by Penelope Przekop, The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, and […]

  15. […] The Literate Housewife Review […]

  16. […] out of town on business. Last month I spent five nights in Las Vegas, got a lot of reading done (Songs for the Missing, Mrs. Lieutenant, Have I Got a Guy for You, and Matrimony). I also met my first author, Lander […]

  17. […] Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan […]


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