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Songs for the Missing: A Novel

Songs for the Missing - Stewart O'Nan Kim Larsen disappears during the summer before going to college. She's been hanging out with her friends, Nina and Elise, her boyfriend JP, and working the overnight shift at the Conoco. There's a short window of time between being last seen on her way to work. Her friends think she's blown off the shift, her parents think she's working, and no one realizes she's missing until the next morning. The police have no reason to suspect foul play, so the investigation goes slowly to start, with Kim's parents Ed and Fran organizing volunteer searches and her younger sister Lindsay ever more in the shadow of her big sister. Eventually the police become more involved, but the search goes on into weeks, months and loses intensity. The story alternates between different viewpoints by chapter, the mother, father, sister, some of the friends. Everyone's got their secrets or issues and it is very suspenseful reading. As the search goes on and it seems less likely that Kim will be found, I found myself more interested in how the various characters were holding up, coping, changing from this big loss and uncertainty in their life.Once again, Stewart O'Nan does a particularly amazing job capturing the nuances of everyday work. First with Kim and Nina at the Conoco, later with Lindsay beginning her job at Quizno's, and also insights into Ed's way of looking at the neighborhood totally through the lens of real estate. Balloon release ceremony at the girls' baseball game: "When they were almost gone her mother raised hers high. The crowd watched solemnly as the song went on -- there's a land that I heard of and standing there beside her, Lindsay realized that this was the real point of the ceremony. For all of their best wishes, in the end her mother would be left alone. When everyone else stopped, she would still be thinking of Kim, and searching for her, and hoping, because she had no choice. She was different now, separate from them, and always would be. That was why they clapped for her. Looking at her Statue of Liberty pose, Lindsay understood that she was fully aware of it -- and that it didn't matter. The song wound down, the singer cooing softly: Why, oh why, can't I? Lindsay raised her balloon, and then, together, they let them go. p.119Lindsay ruminating about what happened to those long missing: "She found herself looking at people strangely during the day. Ultimately everyone in her French class would die (Madame Cassada first), the question was when and where and who would find them. If they were lucky they would be in bed. A nurse would come, like at her grandmother's place. EMTs, people who knew what to do. On the bus home she sat with Dana and Micah, watching the sun flash through the newly bare trees, wondering if there was anyone out there waiting to be found. p. 197Fran worrying about how to connect with Ed again. They had been living parallel lives. "She worried about him now. He was smoking, though she'd asked him not to. She'd hoped he would go back to coaching, but he said it was too soon. Instead he went fishing, taking the boat out after work and on Saturdays, calling from the lake to say he'd be late for dinner, or not to bother, he'd grab something at the marina. She reheated leftovers in the toaster oven, or just had yogurt. The bat bag sat in the garage, gathering cobwebs along with Kim's car. Sunday was reserved for church and visiting his mother, who was struggling. Fran understood that he was grieving: what made her impatient was the way she withdrew into himself. At her most uncharitable, she thought he actually enjoyed wallowing. Secretly she was afraid he'd given up. p.247About Kim's gravestone (no body yet). "The stone was permanent, and so close. Though there was nothing buried under it, Fran stopped by after work, bringing leftover flowers from the gift shop and taking away the old ones. Kim's friends left unopened packs of Newports and full bottles of beer, which Fran dropped in the garbage bag along with the flowers. Once, on her way to lunch, she saw a pickup with a Marine Corps decal parked by her plot, and a goateed dude she suspected was Dennis Wozniak paying his respects. She pulled into the lot of the Dairy Queen and sat there like she was eating, waiting for him to leave. On top of the stone he'd placed a big KitKat, Kim's favorite. Ed went with her on weekends, but confessed that sometimes he came by himself as well. He'd seen Wozniak too, and the KitKat. While Fran didn't care for Wozniak, she was glad that Kim had regulars. As far as she knew, Lindsay hadn't been back since the service. p.267-8After finding Kim's body, Ed's reflections on the funeral home. "Strangely, he was more at ease dealing with the funeral home. Choosing Kim's casket and vault should have upset him, but there, at least, the mood was properly somber. He and Fran were subdued as they followed Mason Radkoff through the showroom, calmed by the stately vases of white lilies and cream walls with their tasteful scones, nodding as he gently went over the benefits of each model. While Ed knew his pitch was false, he could agree with the pretense of comfort and eternal rest. He tried not to think of the expense. This ceremony was necessary, and dignified, and right."