"Songs for the Missing" by Stewart O'Nan

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"Songs for the Missing" by Stewart O'Nan

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Mai 15, 2008, 8:06pm

The June books are arriving on doorsteps everywhere now. Songs for the Missing> by Stewart O'Nan is "An enthralling portrait of one family in the aftermath of a daughter’s disappearance."

The Stewart O'Nan website has this description:

“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.” It was also the summer when, without warning, popular high school student Kim Larsen disappeared from her small Midwestern town. Her loving parents, her introverted sister, her friends and boyfriend, must now do everything they can to find her. As desperate search parties give way to pleading television appearances, and private investigations yield to personal revelations, we see one town’s intimate struggle to maintain hope, and finally, to live with the unknown.

Stewart O’Nan’s new novel begins with the suspense and pacing of a thriller and soon deepens into an affecting family drama of loss. On the heels of his critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling Last Night at the Lobster, Songs for the Missing is an honest, heartfelt account of one family’s attempt to find their child. With a soulful empathy for these ordinary heroes, O’Nan draws us into the world of this small Midwestern town and allows us to feel a part of this family.

Mai 15, 2008, 9:02pm

I am about halfway thrugh the book - I am not certain how I feel about this storyline. It feels to me as though the author could not seem to make up his mind about what kind of genre he was creating. Still, its interesting, just different.

Mai 19, 2008, 12:49am

I just finished it, and was amazed that it was so good. Why amazed? I guess because the male author was often writing in the voice of a woman or teenaged girls (each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the protagonists) and he seemed to get it so right.

One sort of ironic note about the book: it involves a lot of press appearances in the effort to find the missing girl (not a spoiler: she is missing as of the second sentence of the book). Then on the back of the book cover the publisher notes that, to bring attention to the book, there will be a "6-city author tour, national publicity, national review & feature attention, and national radio campaign." It seems like sort of a bizarre black-humor reflection of the books' contents!

Mai 19, 2008, 1:18am

Actually I posted my review and I had a question for other readers. I only gave it 4 and 1/2 stars instead of 5 because the topic matter was depressing /disturbing. But is that a legitimate reason not to give it 5? To me, 5 sort of implies I feel good about the book in every respect. But I don't feel sure about it! What do other people think?

Mai 19, 2008, 7:53am

>4 nbmars:, I think it is okay, as long as you make sure to mention in your review that the depressing nature of the book is why you didn't give it a perfect score. It isn't as if you are giving it a BAD rating, 4.5 is still very good. If you made sure to give a reason, then people can read your review and, if they like depressing, they can decide to try it, and if they hate depressing, they can think about not trying it.

Mai 22, 2008, 4:26pm

I'm halfway through the book and i'm not sure how I feel about it. Will keep you posted. :)

Mai 22, 2008, 6:08pm

I have already finished and couldn't wait to pick it up each time I put the book down. I felt very drawn into the story and kept wanting to know how everyone would cope with the disappearance.

Mai 22, 2008, 10:27pm

mmnyeh... I've finally finished my ER book, and I'm reading One for the Money right now... but then I swear I'm gonna read this book. blushing

Mai 23, 2008, 12:44am

I haven't started it either #8. I have 2 books to read before I get to this one but I will soon!

Mai 23, 2008, 1:05am

I'm going to try and finish each group of chapters as the discussion for them is opening. We'll see how good my will power is! I plan to start reading it about Wednesday so I'll have a week to read the opening section.

Modifié : Mai 23, 2008, 7:00am

That sounds like a great way to do it, streamsong. That might give me enough time to read all my Austen's before reading Songs for the Missing.

I've just kinda slowed down on reading lately... :-/

Mai 23, 2008, 8:02am

I'm planning to read it at the end of the first week of June in order to optimize my memory. I know I won't be able to do a few chapters at a time.

Mai 23, 2008, 8:23am

I'm with jlcardwell. If I read it now, I won't remember enough when the discussion starts.

There was a time when I could remember what I read for years at a time but now my mental library is just about full. It's too bad we can't delete the bad ones we've read. I'd like to clear out the junk.

Mai 23, 2008, 9:25am

I've triied reading section by section with the last two FL reads--it hasn't worked all that well for me as I also tend to just keep going. Yay to know I'm not the only one who has a hard time doing that!

I'm also going to try the Women's Literature book read at B & N in June--the book is Jane Austen's Persuasion which I haven't read.

And in my insanity, I'm also juggling a couple of group reads here on LT. It will either be a very productive month or a too-chaotic one.

Reading several at once will hopefully keep me from galloping through any of them.

Mai 23, 2008, 12:26pm

I'm one of the people who has to read section by section. I read The House at Riverton (my first FL book) within a day of receiving it--and couldn't really participate in the discussion because, although I have a great memory for plots, I couldn't remember in which chapters things occurred. I didn't want to spoil anyone inadvertently, or make more work for the mods deleting posts where I messed up.

Incidentally, does anyone else think the synopsis koolaidmom posted above is reminiscent of The Lovely Bones? That's one of the things that drew me to this book.

Mai 23, 2008, 1:31pm

I thought the description of Lindsay obsessing over Text Twist was cute, so I tried it myself (on Yahoo Games) and now I can hardly stop playing it to read more books!

Mai 27, 2008, 10:28am

I read the first section yesterday. (Rainy Memorial Day with no plans). I found it a very quick read and fairly compelling.

Now I'm going to put it aside until the disucssion on the B &N site for the first section is well under way. (OK if I say it outloud in black and white here, hopefully I'll be able to do it that way).

Up until the last chapter of the first section (Stop, Look & Listen) I felt there wasn't really a storyline--that it was more a description of an incident: a girl gone missing and the way her friends and relatives were reacting to it. At last some indication that something else is going on; in hindsight there were a few hints in earlier chapters.

>15 Trismegistus: It's been a while since I read The Lovely Bones. I do remember the protagonist feelling sad over her family's sorrow; that protagonist had a sister, too, didn't she? Sounds like the same general theme but from a radically different viewpoint.

The unexplained disappearance of a child had got to be parents' worst nightmare.

Mai 29, 2008, 2:34pm

I am almost a fourth of the way through the book, in the middle of the search by the river, and I'm not sure whether I like it. It seems slow going, but easy enough to read... pointless, yet compelling. "Wooze" and "the secret" are what's keeping me going right now. I feel bad for the dad and for J.P. and the sister... not so much the rest of them.

Part of me thinks the circle of friends killed her for her drugs and buried her in the woods.. Maybe I read too much Coben, though.

Juin 1, 2008, 11:52pm

I just finished this book and found it to be a powerful read. And one that is very accurate in its telling. I have a friend whose cousin disappeared without a trace...and with each turn of the page...it seemed almost as if it was her families story being told.

Juin 2, 2008, 9:30am

It definately seems like a true story, though on the B&N site it says it's fiction. I did read the very last page, and it says,

"Deepest thanks to Trudy, Caitlin and Stephen for dealing with this nightmare come true. My apologies for the scare."

Does that mean it was inspired by a true event that happened close to him? He definately scores on several emotions you'd just about have to be there to know.

Juin 2, 2008, 9:37am

>Irisheyz--I'm so sorry your friend's family went through this. It must have been indescribably hard for everyone who knew the cousin.

>20 thekoolaidmom:--definitely something to ask Stewart O'Nan. It will be interesting talking with him.

I'm looking forward to the discussion starting.

Juin 2, 2008, 10:13am

I finished it last night, and I'm just not sure that I thought it was all that good. I found the shift in POV from character to character in each chapter with it never being clear whose perspective we were dealing with confusing, and the lack of information was irritating. I have read another book by O'Nan before (The Circus Fire) and I had the same feeling then; that he knew who he was writing about, therefore the reader ought to know too. I was fine with the "mystery" dealing with Wooze being kept hidden until it actually came to light what happened, but then never really explaining that seemed like part of the plot was missing.

***possible spoilers ahead - reader beware!***

By the later chapters, after one organized event after another for Kim, when they finally got to the one in the football field, the "Circle of Hope," I think I felt like most of the people in the stands. It was time to move on. I almost felt like Kim's mother was more involved in the "advertising" and "celebrity" of her daughter's disappearance at that point than anything else. Maybe never having had to deal with something like this personally myself, I don't understand all the aspects what the family was going through, but I was glad when they found Kim's body, both so that the family could have some kind of closure, but also so that I could move on to my next book.

Juin 2, 2008, 10:27am

22: I had the exact reaction you describe in your second paragraph. As awful as this would be for a family, I found myself hoping that if I ever became a mother and had this happen to me, I would not end up like Fran. The loss of a child is a tragedy, but with missing persons there has to be some point where you just decide to give yourself some kind of closure and stop ruining your relationship with your husband and remaining daughter. Fran devoted her whole life to someone who was never coming back and, honestly, I thought it was kind of selfish after a while—if you loved Kim as much as I do, you would spend all your time wearing buttons and bracelets and organizing fundraisers too.

Juin 2, 2008, 11:23am

I agree with the POV shifting. Sometimes I didn't know who we were reading about. I went two pages thinking I was reading about Lindsay, only to realize it had been about Nina.

I don't know if it was just me, but it began to feel like everyone was better off without Kim. Lindsay was first in her class, Nina became studious and responsible. Fran became a stronger, better person.

Juin 2, 2008, 12:05pm

Okay, I need to get my butt reading this book so that I can join in the discussion here, even if that means I've forgotten what happened in what chapter when the discussion really gets going at B&N.

Juin 2, 2008, 12:42pm

BTW... discussions are open at B&N. Dunno if ya knew'd it... :-D

Juin 2, 2008, 1:38pm

Hmm, I had mixed thoughts about this.... I agree with pretty much everything that's been said here.

The POV shifts were odd and sometimes it took me a minute to figure out who was now telling the story. Another issue I had was the overload of details in the beginning. Just the first couple pages, once I got to the 'practicing driving' part it was fine. But I had to force myself to push through those pages.

As for the mother continuing the fundraisers, etc, I thought that was realistic. (Thankfully neither I nor my family have never been in that kind of situation) But I would think that what drove Fran was hope. There's always hope. Nobody would ever accept the death of his or her child until they had concrete proof. In this case, they would continue the search (even though parts of them had accepted that they would never find her alive) until they had a body to bury-- so that she (and they) would finally be at peace.

Juin 2, 2008, 3:01pm

27: I think it was realistic too, I just hope I wouldn't act the same way. You don't always get a body to bury, and you don't want to be living like that for 10 or 20 or 30 years.

In fact, I thought that was sort of a weak point. Fran seemed to make a sudden and complete recovery when they found the body. There seemed something a little weird about that—yes, it is closure, but aren't you a little bit sad that now you know for sure she's dead? It seemed like by the funeral she had popped right back into normal life.

Juin 2, 2008, 3:21pm

To me it seemed as if she was on auto-pilot. If she stopped to think about it then she would break down.... It's the same with many families who have to organize funerals (at least the ones I've been to/seen). You occupy yourself with everything that has to be done.

On the other hand, I almost wished that the book had ended with the 'Article Lo2-37' chapter and didn't include 'The Grateful Parents' or 'There's No place Like Home'. If the author had chosen to do so, then we wouldn't be exposed to Fran's 'recovery' at all. I thought that choosing to end with Kim's body being found (again keep coming back to this word) was both realistic and unrealistic.

While many missing persons cases do end up solved, there must be twice as many they do not. And even the ones that they can pin the blame on, how many bodies do they find? I really don't know the statistics, but I wish the author had gone with not finding the body. I think the perfect ending would have been Fran with the butterfly pendant.

Juin 2, 2008, 3:27pm

nperrin said: In fact, I thought that was sort of a weak point. Fran seemed to make a sudden and complete recovery when they found the body. There seemed something a little weird about that—yes, it is closure, but aren't you a little bit sad that now you know for sure she's dead? It seemed like by the funeral she had popped right back into normal life.

I don't think so. She'd spent nearly two years grieving and hoping at the same time. With the body, she knew which direction life was going to go, finally. She knew her daughter was dead, with 100% certainty, with the body, unlike with the butterfly necklace, which could have belonged to 1000 other girls. It had been a stepping down process: Kim went missing, a week or so later they found out about Wooze and other secrets, a few weeks later they found the car, a little over a year later they had the confession, and finally they had a body. It wasn't a sudden change. We see it working when she was Christmas shopping, too, when she realized she had nothing for Kim and knew why.

Juin 11, 2008, 12:17am

Hey all, my review's up: http://kbookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/review-songs-for-the-missing-by-ste...

Do you agree, disagree? I'd love to read other reviews for this book.

Juin 16, 2008, 11:35am

has anyone been participating in the forum on B&N?

Juin 16, 2008, 11:48am

I've posted 3 or 4 times--not many. I've seen a few posts from you, correct?

I thought the editor's comments were interesting, although I didn't post to him.

The author is there this week for questions. I'm looking forward to seeing his comments.

>>Kegsoccer--I'm avoiding reading reviews until I get my review written......

Juin 16, 2008, 11:53am

Yes, I've posted there, but mostly the first week. I wasn't to keen about questions for the editor, but if you say they're interesting, I'll have to check them out. I've got a few questions for Mr. O'Nan, though.

Also, another reason I wasn't on the First Look board so much last week is because Center Stage had Janet Evanovich in, so I visited with her instead.

Juin 16, 2008, 12:13pm

I've posted maybe 6 times, but there is just too much going on there, so I'm just reading a few, seeing if there is one I'd like to respond to, doing the same in some other threads, then forgetting about it for the week.

Juin 16, 2008, 4:28pm

I went to post a couple of times, but it seems just as overwhelming as when I tried to participate in the discussion for The Sister. So I skim a couple of posts and see what others are saying and then just move on. I think until they get a better way to set up the discussion, I am going to have to step away from the program over there.

Juin 18, 2008, 8:41am

I haven't participated. I thought the book was pretty dull and just couldn't get into talking about it. And the discussion seemed pretty chaotic to me too.

Modifié : Juin 18, 2008, 8:49am

It definately wasn't my favorite, and I'm with you about it being dull, bostobibliophile. I also didn't like the way the POVs shifted without warning. The only thing I really did like with the book was how detailed and well-imaged it was written. O'Nan must have done a lot of research, spoke to familes to whom such a thing had happened, because there are things in it I couldn't have imagined.

At the B&N site, the sheer volume of responses, the way they don't carry over from page to page, and the repetitive thoughtless comments were disorientingly confusing.