Monday, July 18, 2011

Dark Passages: Songs for the Missing

Some books are so good, they hurt.  The prose is so masterful, it makes a fellow writer despair of ever reaching such skill level.  Or the characters are so well drawn, the emotional and psychological realism immerses the reader in the drama, makes him/her share the fictional figures' pain.  Stewart O'Nan's novel Songs for the Missing qualifies on both fronts.  The book (one of the most moving I have ever read) traces the heartache and angst experienced by the family and friends of missing teenager Kim Larson.  Consider the following passage, which follows a trajectory from the quotidian (as Kim's younger sister Lindsey prepares for bed) to the macabre (as Lindsey can't help but imagine a terrible fate for Kim):

[...] Just like at school, at camp they moved in different circles, but in such a limited, informal setting, Kim's popularity swamped [Lindsey].  She was Little Larsen, and after the first morning competition, no team captain made the mistake of choosing her just for her name.  The flip side was that being Kim's sister protected her from the nastier pranks, most of which involved bug spray or wiping bodily fluids on the victim's pillowcase.  It was always the problem: without Kim she would be free to be her own person, but she would also be picked on or ignored because that person was weak.
In bed, with the light out, she resolved to be strong tomorrow, as if she could pay her back that way.  "If it was you," her father had said, "do you think Kim would just be sitting in her room?"  From now on she would do whatever she had to, whatever she could.  For once, Lindsey would save her.
Outside, a car splashed by.  Cooper [the family dog] twitched and whimpered, running in a dream, then subsided.  She held her breath, straining to make out the faintest noise from her parents' room.  There was only the constant, rhythmless drumming overhead.  She'd thought the rain would help her sleep.  Now she was aware of it falling on the backyard and the woods, on the fields and farms and creeks that fed the river.  She imagined the water in the gorge rising slowly in total blackness, a smudge of a pale body drifting downstream, caught in the rocks.  On one rubbery hand would be her grandmother's cameo ring.  She opened her eyes, rolled on her side and squeezed them shut again.  A minute later she sighed loudly and rolled the other way.  She could see Kim naked and lying in the mud, her dark hair tangled like seaweed, part of her face neatly buried like a rock uncovered by the tide.  She smacked her pillow flat, then flipped it.  The rain pattered, maddening.  Stop it, she thought.  Just stop.  (73)

Work Cited

O'Nan, Stewart.  Songs for the Missing.  New York, Penguin Books, 2008.


Barbara said...

Hey Joe-
Thanks for this recommendation... I am currently reading The Stand ( I have lost count of how long I have been "finishing" this book)
But as soon as I am done.. this book is next on the list!


Joe Nazare said...

Hi Barbara. I've been trying to psych myself up to re-read The Stand (that book's a biggy, alright--the hardcover could be used for step aerobics).

Let me know what you think of Songs for the Missing.