There are times when you should read a book, and take the advice of the people you trust, this is one of those times. I’ve avoided Stewart O’Nan for as long as I’ve been reading books. There is no particular reason, he’s as capable a storyteller as anyone working today, and that was my opinon before I picked up Songs for the Missing. In today’s apocolyptic market, (it is really bad out there for the book business that’s been eating prime rib everyday for the last ten years, at least) books like this are a brutal sell. The publisher made no bones about it, this was a book without a happy ending. How refreshing is that? It’s like a David Mamet script with out the fucks and shit. Don’t get me wrong, Mamet walks on water for me, but O’Nan, he’s an American realist of the truest form.
For me to tell you what happens in this book would be to spoil the unbelievable beauty of this narrative, but I will say this, you will not be able to put this book down, it is that good. It’s as simple a story as you’re likely to come across. It’s been done before, girl goes missing, and everyone spends the rest of their waking hours looking for her. O’Nan plasters the book start to finish with fine details about middle America, the fly over states, the football teams, the local stores that are going under, or are out of the time loop continum and don’t know what year it is. People who are as common to you and I as the dirt at the end of our driveway. Mom is a nurse, Dad sells real estate, and the daughter who is still at home, she’s a kid, a teenager at that insufferable awkward time that every single person has ever experienced.
Mom and Dad clear their lives of distraction and turn the world upside down to find their daughter who has literally vanished into thin air. There is a lump in your throat through out this entire book as the family and police scour the area for this missing girl. There are friends who know more than they’re letting on, and parents who know the awful truth is waiting for them around the next corner, that most likley, their daughter is dead and that it’s only a matter of time before someone finds her.
O’Nan loves his details, he weaves them around his characters like body odor or worn out shoes, and that’s where the brilliance of this little gem really comes to life. He writes the daughter who stays at home with a kicked puppy persona, and when she finds her missing sister’s secret stash, a little box, and sees the crumpled up peice of paper, a little ball, that when she unrolls it to find out it has the words You Suck on it, that’s when I felt myslef being pulled deep into the abyss of this story. For some reason at this moment there was no one else in the world except me and this book. There is a chapter towards the last third of the story where Dad tries to sell a house after months of searching for his daughter. This chapter is probably the reason you should read this book. Dad is describing what he sees around the house he is trying to sell, and he mentions the mailbox and its steel bars that hold the newspaper. It’s a throwaway detail if you’re looking at the house, but offers a glimpse at the brilliance that is Stewart O’Nan.