Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan (2008, reprinted 2009) sucked me in from the very first page.

Not so much the story of Kim Larsen, who goes missing one summer day after completing her senior year of high school, this is the story of the unraveling of the self-perceptions and lives of those left behind.

After the first chapter, told in the third person from Kim's point of view on the day she goes missing, each chapter is told in the third person from the point of view of someone close to Kim--her dad, her mom, her sister, her best friend, her not-so-serious boyfriend. O'Nan does a fantastic job of keeping the reader in the story while having each voice provide a unique sound and perspective for the story.

Told from the various perspectives, the story moves from the initial disbelief of realizing that Kim is missing through the various searches to an eventual memorial service and beyond to a few years after her disappearance. A lot of emotions, a lot of change--and, yet, getting stuck for at least one character, a lot of pain is covered in this book.

I admit that I have a favorite, Kim's younger sister, Lindsay, fifteen and learning to drive at the beginning of the book. Fittingly for me, the last chapter in the story is told from her perspective, when Lindsay is now nineteen and building her own life away at college.

Here's how the book starts, in the chapter told from Kim's perspective:

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 onramp 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.

My overall personal rating of Songs for the Missing is an A.


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