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9780143143567

Songs for the Missing: A Novel

O'Nan, Stewart Author

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9780143143567: Songs for the Missing: A Novel

Returning again to the theme of working-class people and their wrenching concerns, Songs for the Missing begins with the suspenseful pace of a thriller, following an Ohio community?s efforts to locate a young woman who has gone missing. It soon deepens into an affecting portrait of a family trying desperately to hold onto itself and the memory of a daughter whose return becomes increasingly unlikely. Stark and honest, this is an intimate account of what happens behind the headlines of a very American tragedy.

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About the Author:

Stewart O’Nan is the author of eleven novels, most recently Last Night at the Lobster, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a story collection, and two works of nonfiction.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for Songs for the Missing

A Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Best Book of 2008

 

“This is a novel about loss and healing; a novel that acknowledges the depth of loss and the limits of healing. . . . You could call this novel many things. You could call it a mystery. You could call it a thriller. You could even call it a self-help book, for reading it slowly and carefully causes one to consider love and sorrow in a much larger context than simply that of this well-paced tale. O’Nan has a remarkable ability to pinpoint the ways in which hope and suffering are intertwined. . . . This is a fine, absorbing book. It’s easy to imagine that O’Nan is on a kind of mission to restore a simple, true sense of humanity to the novel: a worthy goal, indeed.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Some books should come with warnings. That’s not a complaint, at least in the case of Stewart O’Nan’s haunting novel Songs for the Missing, which kept me up most of the night. . . . O’Nan, a former aviation engineer, describes emotional roller coasters in prose that’s remarkably taut and precise.”

—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

Songs for the Missing has a plot that is deceptively easy to summarize, but the book has a mood so subtle that only first-rate fiction can evoke it. . . . As we read, we, too, are changed, and in ways we cannot even understand. . . . It’s the sort of experience that reveals why we read in the first place, knowing that the sadness we find inside a book mirrors the sadness always within reach.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Art, like athletics, is all about making it look easy. That’s the special magic behind the work of Stewart O’Nan, a novelist who brings his uncommon gifts to the task of rendering the common world. He writes with quiet precision about people we all know, people in regular jobs with lives we can all recognize, and the result is work that shimmers with verisimilitude. You can forget, for long stretches, that you’re reading fiction, because it feels as if you’re eavesdropping on somebody’s cell phone conversation on the bus. His writing is that true.”

—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

“Too often the face on the milk carton becomes a dimensionless symbol, but by allowing his cast of characters to grow and change and to find their real selves, O’Nan restores humanity even among those whose fate remains in suspended animation.”

Los Angeles Times

“Stewart O’Nan is a daredevil. . . . In scene after scene, these spare descriptions will make you catch your breath. . . . The world that O’Nan captures thwarts our expectations for cathartic tragedy or gleeful celebration, which makes the story even more devastating.”

The Washington Post

“The book’s emotional power is undeniable, as each character grieves for Kim, wanting her disappearance to mean something beyond ‘the world’s incoherence.’ In the midst of the search, they elegiacally discover a little of what has been missing among themselves.”

—Don Lee, The Boston Globe

“O’Nan also sensitively observes the fraying and deepening of relationships during trauma and the unexpected ways it can change people.”

The Seattle Times

“At the heart of Stewart O’Nan’s powerful fiction is his compassion for ordinary people. . . . With his characteristic spare prose style and his impressively precise use of detail, O’Nan reflects and illuminates life in Kingsville. His major achievement, however, is the intensity of the empathy he conveys to readers for all who knew Kim Larsen.”

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Songs for the Missing is anything but an easy read, but it’s a spectacular one. And, like most of O’Nan’s work, one that resolutely draws the reader in and refuses to let go.”

The Denver Post

“Chilling and honest . . . Like all great writers, O’Nan possesses the ability to place the reader squarely inside the thoughts of his characters. In Songs for the Missing it may be an ultimately nightmarish place no parent, sibling or friend ever wants to be. But you won’t regret that O’Nan put you there.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“O’Nan’s novel is an elegant elegy: He has plumbed the depth of the horror no one ever wants to experience, and done it with sympathy, honesty and respect.”

The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

“Choosing to avoid the what, who and why of Kim’s disappearance, Mr. O’Nan instead paints a nuanced portrait of how people are changed by tragic events and the far-reaching effect a person’s disappearance has on their family and community. Songs for the Missing is an elegantly crafted, memorable book that resonates with sadness.”

The Economist

“O’Nan writes with great sympathy and perceptiveness, and he really captures the texture of working-class American lives.”

Newsday

“Riveting . . . Songs for the Missing is an engaging and often excruciating read; it makes vivid our most dreadful thoughts, forcing us to contemplate the kind of thing we like to believe only happens elsewhere. O’Nan uses the filter of fiction along with his razor sharp, unerring eye for local detail to render our darkest and most disturbing nightmares all too real.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Taut prose and matter-of-fact detail enrich this compelling portrait of teenage life in small-town Ohio. . . . Though the author sustains narrative momentum through the conventions of the police procedural, ultimately the novel is less about a possible crime than about the interconnections of small-town life. ‘The problem was that everything was connected,’ thinks one of Kim’s friends. ‘One lie covered another, which covered a third, which rested against a fourth. It all went back to Kingsville being so goddamn small.’ a novel in which every word rings true.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“O’Nan proves that uncertainty can be the worst punishment of all in this unflinching look at an unraveling family. Through shifting points of view . . . O’Nan raises the suspense while conveying the sheer torture of what it’s like not to know what has happened to a loved one. When—if ever—do you stop looking?”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“O’Nan’s writing is undeniably skillful. . . . The pacing is spotless.”

The Miami Herald

“What begins as a procedural turns into something more interesting: a mosaic-mirror reflection of the small town that mourns her loss.”

Vogue

“A page-turner that illustrates the unsettling idea that sometimes answers only raise more questions.”

Marie Claire

Songs for the Missing is the kind of book that makes you wish your flight were longer. . . . After hooking readers with the fact-paced opening, Mr. O’Nan edges away from the easy payoffs of the thriller genre. He resists the clichés of closure and triumph over adversity. Instead, he gives the reader more ordinary satisfaction of characters who confront tragedy and doggedly endure.”

The Dallas Morning News

“It’s a story as familiar as a photo on a milk carton, as unimaginable as death. It’s also a situation that has been the basis for countless tear-jerking and predictable movies and TV episodes. Not in this novel; Songs for the Missing has an emotional austerity and courage that make it far more moving. . . . One of the great strengths is that very little of what happens then is what you might expect—and yet it rings entirely, heartbreakingly true.”

St. Petersburg Times

“O’Nan’s use of details . . . give a believable, behind-the-scenes glimpse of what a grieving family must endure. . . . A nuanced portrait.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The characters he creates are so lifelike that one tends to forget they are fictional. . . . Many of O’Nan’s books contain a dark element, and Songs for the Missing is one of the most haunting. The writing, as always, is consistently beautiful.”

The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg)

“O’Nan shifts his point of view . . . and hits each with pointillist accuracy, creating complex portraits of each individual as well as the shifting mood of the town itself. Most impressive, however, is the precision with which O’Nan conveys the transformation of a family’s fresh terror into a kind of quotidian torture. . . . O’Nan creates his narrative tension out of the relationships between his multilayered characters. There is none of the easy sensationalism here that his subject might suggest and not a single wasted sentence. Powerful, honest and at times elegiac, this absorbing and masterfully written novel is not to be missed.”

Shelf Awareness

“Both profound and profoundly beautiful. A haunting meditation on the power of those we lose, its emotional resonance defies description. Like most of Stewart O’Nan’s work, my ultimate response was the highest praise one writer can pay another: envy. I so dearly wish I’d written it.”

—Dennis Lehane

“Stewart O’Nan has done the seemingly impossible—taken a story with tabloid potential and not just avoided the pitfalls of melodrama and unearned grace but written a novel that is singularly insightful, beautifully modulated, and genuinely moving. It’s also very suspenseful. I read it quickly but will remember it for a very long time.”

—Ann Packer

PENGUIN BOOKS

SONGS FOR THE MISSING

Stewart O’Nan is the author of fourteen novels, including The Odds; Emily, Alone; and Last Night at the Lobster, as well as several works of nonfiction, including, with Stephen King, the bestselling Faithful. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.

ALSO BY STEWART O’NAN

FICTION

 
Last Night at the Lobster
The Good Wife
The Night Country
Wish You Were Here
Everyday People
A Prayer for the Dying
A World Away
The Speed Queen
The Names of the Dead
Snow Angels
In the Walled City

 
NONFICTION

 
Faithful (with Stephen King)
The Circus Fire
The Vietnam Reader (editor)
On Writers and Writing, by John Gardner (editor)

 
SCREENPLAY

 
Poe

Table of Contents

Praise for Songs for the Missing

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Epigraph

 

Description of the Person, When Last Seen

Known Whereabouts

Victimology

BOLO

Another Kind of Lie

Nonfamily Abduction Sample

The Right to Disappear

Answers to Name

Baby Steps

Talent

Crime Stoppers

Hello, My Name Is

Stop, Look & Listen

The Motorist’s Prayer

The Loser’s Bracket

Follow Me

The Last Time

The Long Weekend

Head Check

Where She Was

Immediate Occupancy

The Advanced Stages

Painesville

Halftime Entertainment

Wish List

America’s Most Wanted

Being the Cup

Last Summer

Catch and Release

A Break

The Killer Next Door

Article L02-37

The Grateful Parents

There’s No Place Like Home

 

Acknowledgments

For Trudy and Caitlin and Stephen

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
and wake up where the clouds are far
behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
away above the chimney tops
that’s where you’ll find me

Description of the Person, When Last Seen

July, 2005. It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow. The last summer, the best summer, the summer they’d dreamed of since eighth grade, the high and pride of being seniors lingering, an extension of their best year. She and Nina and Elise, the Three Amigos. In the fall they were gone, off to college, where she hoped, by a long and steady effort, she might become someone else, a private, independent person, someone not from Kingsville at all.

The sins of the Midwest: flatness, emptiness, a necessary acceptance of the familiar. Where is the romance in being buried alive? In growing old?

She did not hate the town, as, years later, her sister would tell one lover. Not Kim, not the good daughter. She loved the lake, how on a clear day you could see all the way to Canada from the bluffs. She loved the river, winding hidden in its mossy gorge of shale down to the harbor. She even loved the slumping Victorian mansions along Grandview her father was always trying to sell, and the sandstone churches downtown, and the stainless steel diner across from the post office. She was just eighteen.

At the Conoco, on break, she liked to cross the lot and then the on-ramp and stand at the low rail of the overpass, French-inhaling menthols in the dark as traffic whipped past below, taillights shooting west into the future. Toledo was three hours away, on the far side of Cleveland, far enough to be another country. Trucks lit like spaceships shuddered under her feet, dragging their own hot wind, their trailers full of unknown cargo. Slowly, night by night, the dream of leaving was coming true—with her family’s blessing, their very highest hopes. She could not regret it. She could only be grateful.

Inside, the a/c was cranked so high she wore a T-shirt under her uniform. They poached old nametags they found in the junk drawer under the register. She was Angie, Nina was Sam. They spun on their stools and watched the monitors, punching in the pump numbers and making change. They read heavy, insane fashion magazines and called around to see what was going on later—even though they were on camera too—and fought over whose turn it was to refill the nacho pot. Her timecard was in its slot, the clock beside it chunking with every minute, a record of her steadiness. She’d worked seven days a week since graduation and hadn’t missed a shift. Later the police would call this strict pattern a contributing factor. Secretly she was proud of it. She’d never been so determined. She’d never had a reason before.

The Conoco was an oasis of light, drawing cars off the highway like the muffleheads that fluttered against the windows. Drivers came in squinting and rubbing their necks, stopping on the mat inside the door as if this was all new to them, and too much, the bright aisles of candies and chips overloading their brains so they couldn’t read the sign directly in front of them.

They blinked at her, apologetic. “Where are the—?”

“Straight back.”

Fifty, a hundred times a night. She pointed her whole arm like a ghost.

“It’s true,” Nina said. “The more you drive, the dumber you get.”

“Thank you, thank you, Sam I Am.”

The living dead had bad breath. They bought coffee and soda and water, cigarettes and gum, Tootsie Pops and jerky, anything to get them to the next stop. In line they nodded their heads and mouthed the lyrics to the dinosaur pop that played endlessly inside and out, a fiendish commercial-free satellite feed pieced together, it seemed, by U2 and the Doobie Brothers. They paid double what they would at the Giant Eagle and were grateful...

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