There were two reasons I read Songs for the Missing, a novel by Stewart O’Nan that came out last week. The first was that, based on what I’d heard of Last Night at the Lobster, O’Nan seemed like he was doing a sort of regional fiction, which interests me. The second was that the first chapter, about the disappearance of Kim Larsen, popular high school student about to leave for college, sounded like the beginning of a good mystery.
My first motive paid off, generally. The novel takes place in eastern Ohio, in a marginally depressed, semi-Rust Belt sort of town, which I feel O’Nan has captured well. That is, of course, based on my extensive firsthand knowledge of sleepy, economically disadvantaged Ohio suburbs. But anyhow, I did think I was getting a good “feel” for the place, which was nice.
My second motive, not so much. The tone and atmosphere of mystery disappear pretty much as soon as Kim does. And I wasn’t super sad to see her go, either—not very interesting, not very bright, but of course she’s the most popular girl at school. In any case, we know very little about her. Her younger sister Lindsay looks up to her and is bullied by her; her mother Fran gets in typical parent-teenager fights with her. Kim’s relationship with her father Ed doesn’t get much press. And her friends and boyfriend are pretty typical.
That’s the thing: everything about Kim is typical. Her family, her friends, her middle-American town. And she disappears. Everyone mobilizes, but the place doesn’t become any less bland. In fact, it may be worse. Now there’s only one topic of all conversation and thought.
The story takes us through the immediate aftermath of search parties and radio alerts and fundraisers. And eventually
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