Songs for the Missing – Book Review

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

On Sale October 30, 2008.

“Songs for the Missing” is the story of a family whose daughter goes suddenly missing one day. Kim Larson is a popular 18 year old from a small town in Ohio who is just weeks from leaving for college. She spends an afternoon at the lake with her friends then never shows up for work that evening and is never seen again.

The very beginning of the novel is told from Kim’s perspective but after her disappearance, the point of view jumps from family member to family member. Kim’s mother threw herself into the theatrics of finding her daughter: media spots, fund raisers, a missing child blog; Kim’s father organizes volunteers to comb the woods for his daughter – living or dead; Kim’s sister Lindsay holes up in her room and tries to feel ‘normal’.

I found this a fascinating, insightful look at what happens to a family confronted by tragedy. Many reviewers have criticized Kim’s mother Fran as not truly grieving while spending all of her time in front of the cameras and organizing fund raisers. I think O’Nan recognized that people grieve differently and many do by shutting themselves down from their emotions. Fran let herself cry, but it felt that she grieved by doing whatever she could to find Kim and ensure that she would be remembered. If she had tried to grieve in the normal sense she would have completely lost it.

There have also been many criticisms of the style, where the perspective jumps from character to character basically every chapter. I found this to be symbolic of what was happening to the family. The tragedy of Kim’s disappearance increased the distance between the Larson family. They no longer really knew how to relate to one another. Each character was drawn into his or herself in a different way, and the change in point of view showed this. None of the members of the family truly understood what was going on with the others after Kim disappeared and the style O’Nan used only reinforced this.

I thought this book was terrific and very well done. I will be looking for O’Nan’s other work.

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