Click here to read reviewer Karen D. Haney's take on Songs for the Missing.
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan follows a typical family's life after their teenage daughter goes missing. Kim Larsen is home for her last summer before college. She disappears one afternoon between an outing with friends and going to work. The
narrative follows lives in the time following the disappearance, showing how this occurrence affects each individual as well as the family dynamic. It explores how such an event can unravel familial and friendship ties and
delves the stages of grief.
O'Nan is masterful at showing how the disappearance affects everyone. Ed Larsen, the father and a real estate broker
struggling under the economy and bad financial decisions, feels guilty that he
didn't prevent the disappearance and protect Kim as he feels a father should do. He stays busy
searching at first, becoming depressed as time moves on. Fran, the mother, goes into super-organizer mode, lining up volunteers, publicity and donations. The disappearance and the organization of the events necessary for a full-fledged search become her life. When she isn't working on it, she knocks herself out with sleeping pills. Lindsay, Kim's younger sister, is confused and angry. Always in Kim's shadow as the little sister, she
now has to create a new life with her own identity. Friends are also impacted,
as Kim's best friend and boyfriend also try to cope with the tragedy.
Support from volunteers starts to dwindle and the police check in less often as the disappearance becomes a cold case. Kim's friends move on, starting their college careers, and forming new relationships. The Larsen family
faces the dilemma of how long the disappearance can remain the primary focus of their lives. Is it fair to Lindsay to allow her life to be second to Kim's forever? Can they sustain the strength that focused their search?
The family moves through the recognized stages of grief and finally finds acceptance that they will probably never see Kim again.
I've heard great things about O'Nan, and this is my first experience with his writing. The writing is neither overblown
nor depressing, which would be easy to do given the grim situation. Relationships and their exploration seems to be
O'Nan's real strength. He gets the tone of the average family in a small town
exactly right and takes the reader convincingly into the experience of losing a
child without knowing what has happened.