Click here to read reviewer Sandie Kirkland's take on Songs for the Missing.
Although Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing gives the hope and impression of a fast-paced, highly anticipated read, it falls short. Instead, readers are the ones who will find themselves missing - missing out on a better book.
Preparing to enter college, Kim Larsen goes missing the summer before she is to leave. The story introduces Kim and her friends fairly well and also leaves little clues of what secrets they may hold. Remember, however, clues are meant to hopefully lead to an eventual answer. These do not. Kim's family, with parents Fran and Ed, are described well, and the book really spends a great deal of its time on their reactions and what they do as they try to find Kim. Almost as a side story is the sister, Lindsay, who is trying to be a person on her own rather just than "Kim's little sister."
O'Nan writes in detail of how both parents go about trying to find their daughter in their own way. Unless one has been through such a tragic event, it is close to impossible to judge how one should act or feel. And yet, one's common sense tends to find some of the parentsí actions questionable. We see how the parents feel about Kim and all her friends including the boyfriend but are never quite satisfied with any of the open-ended questions, especially as many are never answered. This kind of writing leaves the reader finding it hard to engage themselves with these characters and the story.
In many of O'Nan's other books, like Last Night at the Lobster, we are entertained and satisfied with his writing. Unfortunately, I was not with Songs for the Missing. I expected so much more, and just when I thought I would give up on reading the book, it would pull me back in with hopes of what I might find out. Those hopes were quickly dashed. As I read through to the end of the book, I was left flat and sorry. The end is rushed, and had more time been spent in tying up loose ends, the book could have worked better. I am sure there are some who could find symbolism and comparisons of character studies, but I don't like to have to work quite that hard to read a novel.