Songs for the Missing

Readalong Thoughts sftmbyson Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, Viking 2008, 287 pages Hardback

for the What’s in a Name 6 Challenge: Lost or Found

READALONG!  with Judith and Laurie!!  possibly (likely) spoilers ahead. Links at end of post…

from the Penguin’s Reader’s Guide website:

In his twelfth novel, following the critically acclaimed bestseller Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan demonstrates an uncanny ability to delve into the lives of ordinary, well-meaning people confronting tragedy. Here, in a story of a girl gone missing, he finds the quieter emotional narrative behind the sensational events. O’Nan’s clear, sharp prose and tremendous empathy yields flawed yet heroic characters whose every word and gesture rings true. Defying genre, Songs for the Missing is a remarkable novel that begins as a thriller and widens into an elegiac examination of family, love, and longing.


1.  Was this a first read of this author?  If yes, will you read more and why?  If not, how would you describe his style – is it recognizable? does he work with similar themes or …

This was my first time to read Stewart O’Nan and I’ve been wanting to since I heard about his book Last Night at the Lobster.  Somehow, this is his book that fell into my hands and it still took me a few years to get to it. When I was embarking on my trip to the Netherlands, I wanted to bring a book for Judith and this is the one that jumped into my suitcase. You see, I somehow acquired two copies – so I had one to give and one to keep. I talked into this readalong and my favorite local librarian Laurie joined us.
I am very much looking forward to reading more, if not all, of O’Nan’s books. I was expecting a fabulous author experience and I was not disappointed. 
2. I tried to convince a friend – who has two daughters of college age – to read this and she said, “NO WAY”.  Is there anything I could have said that would have made her consider this book?  
I should note that this friend and I rarely like the same kind of book. So I probably should have known better than to suggest it.
However, this book is not about all the horrible stuff – or let me rephrase: this book is not about describing the situation of the missing girl and what happens to her. It is about how her family deals with it. SO in one way, this book is actually more frightening because it forces the reader to wonder how one’s own family would deal with the imagined horror and the unknown. Rather than experience the pain and fear of the victim. 
3.  From Judith:    What did you guys think of Kim? Likeable, untrustworthy, etc.

I didn’t really like her, to be honest.  I do think the author was very skilled to present her as he did; she was what I felt to be a typical teenage girl with the Attitude: a prickly attitude towards her parents, especially. She seemed restless and scared but wouldn’t dare tell anyone she had fears – of the future, leaving home, etc.

4. How would you describe Kim and her boyfriend’s relationship? Did you find it realistic?
I really liked JP and thought it very interesting that Kim had the power in that relationship. I have no idea if it was ‘realistic’ in terms of today’s youth but I believed it even if I might even suggest it wasn’t typical. 
5. Did you have a favorite character?
I liked the little sister and again, felt the author captured a realistic response on her part for how to deal with the tragedy. She turned inward, wondered if her parents would have had a different response if she had gone missing instead, fell for Kim’s boyfriend, considered herself all the horrible things that befell missing girls. I was so relieved when she wanted to go away from school and actually became more brave about her choice to really live her life. Brings up questions of how she would have been different if Kim had been around. How you can ask the What Ifs but we just can’t know, we can’t do what Ursula does in Life After Life (which I loved.)
I was also intrigued by Kim’s best friend becoming a conscientious student, growing up, when she got to college and how she, too, thought it interesting that she had made those choices as if she really didn’t contemplate them at the time.  While JP went the other way and sadly, just couldn’t take school seriously but seemed to really want to.
6. Did you have any preconceived notions about this book and were they realized?

I had known that the book was not just a ‘horror about story about what happens to a missing teenaged girl’ but more the reaction from those left behind so I thought it very much delivered what I was expecting. I do think I was afraid the parents might end up on different pages, ie divorce, but I think they were successful with their marriage. They certainly had two approaches to what to do and how to feel but they seemed to be able to respect those differences.

7. Ultimately,O’Nan doesn’t really focus on what happens to Kim; what do you think happened? Were you frustrated with the beginning of the search, the police response, etc?

Right, so I knew that O’Nan wasn’t going to focus on the Kim side of the story but I also wasn’t prepared with how it started with her and then shifted totally, almost away from her for the rest of the book.  I was not frustrated with the search, I let it play out. I believe I would likely be the type to trust the authorities and/or be in a state of shock and uncertainty to all of it. Then again… It would be so hard not to DO SOMETHING and want the whole world to stop and find the fix, find the girl, make it all OK. So scary.

I could have questions but have actually stopped my mind from going there. But I’ll try here, now. I expect that she came home from the river, took a shower and got ready for work and then drove to the place. It was here that she met the wrong type of asshole and away they went. It must have been timed right after the previous shift left and right before her friend got to work. Which is why I wouldn’t want my daughter to work at any highway roadside convenience mart. Too many skeevy people; too much easy exit access. I bet there is a policy of workers never ever to be alone on the premises and that she likely sent the first shift guy away saying she could handle it. 

8. Did you highlight any quotes?  Anything else to share?

Excellent character study. Excellent pacing and style. This book has a vague longing, of remembered sadness, a tinge of nostalgia, of hot hazy dusty weather of late summer when you hear the cicadas buzzing…  All the little things carried weight; and the reverse as well: the big things that were only sketched out briefly like the drug use issue. He lightly touches on few details here, thereby giving it more attention when the kids thought they had to cover it up.

I did have a few quotes! I love to highlight things that strike me for powerful sentences, oddities, pies &/or lobsters or connections to other books. Here are just a few or you can click on my link to where I store them (so easy to do from the app on my iPhone):

“The detective had asked him if he loved Kim. Immediately JP said yes, on the strength of those feelings, but was that love?”   -p.62

“He hadn’t taken off for either of her mistakes, and she felt cheated.”   -p.172

“Like every bureaucracy, they protected their own from those they were supposed to serve.”  -p.174

“She had no memory of last night’s anxieties, or of Ed coming to bed, just a visceral appreciation for the blank, restorative hours in between.”  -p.179

“The most terrible thing in the world, she thought, was how easy it was to forget.”   -p. 208

RATING:   fourpieMaybe even a five. Not sure why I am not giving it five slices. I think this might be one that I hang onto where some books fade away.  This one will stay with me.

Please click over and read Judith’s thoughts at her Books Books and Books blog as well as Laurie’s thoughts at her Bay State Reader’s Advisory blog.

More from book blogger reviews can be found —->here<—–


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22 thoughts on “Songs for the Missing

  1. I like your answers! At first, I thought it was unrealistic that the parents would let Lindsay go to school so far away from them, across the country, but in a way it makes sense, because the worst has already happened to them. Lightning isn’t going to strike twice in the same place, right?

    In Wish You Were Here, one of the main characters happens into an empty convenience store gas station place, all lit up and open in the middle of the day and no store clerk around. Later, he hears that the teen girl who worked there alone had gone missing. I felt as though the author must have sensed that there could be a whole novel there. Actually, Wish You Were Here is all about an absence, too, of a different kind; a family is spending their week at the summer place for the first time without the family patriarch, who died that year.

      1. Not really, I guess, because you know that the older generation is going to die eventually. It’s sad when it happens but it’s not the same as when it’s a teenager.

    1. I’ve had a list of authors I ‘must’ get to and I’ve been really good about getting to them this year. Zetta Elliot, Tom Perotta and Sarah Jane Gilman are a few on the list.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan | Leeswammes' Blog

  3. It’s funny how different we thought about Kim, but then we do agree the sister is the favorite character!

    I don’t think I’d have a teenage daughter work in a place like that. I don’t think I would!

    I remember several of those quotes. It is a very well-written novel!

  4. I read one of his early books – The Night Country – a ghost story – one of the best I’ve read. It was haunting and melancholic and just what a ghost story is. I’ve been meaning to read more by him, so this is a good time to look at this one you’ve reviewed. He does characters so well, doesn’t he? Thanks, Care! Love the review and the set up with your read-along group!

  5. You haven’t read Last Night at the Lobster (LOBSTER!)? I am so surprised. I thought you had, back in our early blogging days. I remember Songs for the Missing very well. I liked it a lot. But I loved Lobster!

    1. Sigh. I know, right?! I should have already read the Last Night at the Lobster. In fact, I believe it was your review that originally inspired its place on the tbr but other books happen and then time slips by and perhaps the library doesn’t have it and and and. I don’t know.

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