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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Songs for the Missing

by
Stewart O'Nan


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Songs for the Missing



Title: Songs for the Missing
Author: Stewart O'Nan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 287 pages
Availability: Songs for the Missing - US
Songs for the Missing - UK
Songs for the Missing - Canada
Alle, alle lieben dich - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : fine portrayal of loss

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 13/11/2008 .
Entertainment Weekly B 29/10/2008 Jennifer Reese
FAZ . 7/2/2009 Alexander Müller
NZZ . 18/3/2009 Jürgen Brôcan
The NY Times Book Rev. . 21/12/2008 Erica Wagner
San Francisco Chronicle . 16/11/2008 Joseph Di Prisco
USA Today . 15/12/2008 Bob Minzesheimer
The Washington Post . 23/11/2008 Ron Charles
Die Zeit A 12/2/2009 Ulrich Baron


  Review Consensus:

  Most very impressed (and moved)

  From the Reviews:
  • "The authorís decision to focus on the day-to-day existence of a family under unbearable strain makes this book far more compelling than a standard police procedural. Choosing to avoid the what, who and why of Kimís disappearance, Mr OíNan instead paints a nuanced portrait of how people are changed by tragic events and the far-reaching effect a personís 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 manages to skirt all clichés. (...) O'Nan turns out to be better at capturing their ambivalence and confusion than their grief. And grief is one messy emotion that most thrillers, with all their crude sentimentality, come closer to getting right." - Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Er habe mit Alle, alle lieben dich mehr schaffen wollen als einen "good read", mehr als eine anregende Lektüre, sagte O'Nan im Amerika-Haus. Denn Aufgabe des Schriftstellers sei es, so altmodisch es klingen mag, wie seinerzeit Faulkner an die "eternal verities", die ewigen Wahrheiten und Werte wie Liebe, Mitgefühl und Ehre zu erinnern. Das ist ihm mit diesem bewegenden Roman über das Abschiednehmen und Weiterleben, der trotz des hoffnungslosen Geschehens ein großes Maß an Zuversicht und Trost birgt, gelungen." - Alexander Müller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Stewart O'Nan versteht es meisterhaft, einen hauchdünnen, aber unzerreissbaren Schleier des Schreckens über den Alltag zu legen. Nicht die Ursachen des Verschwindens interessieren ihn, sondern die Seelen derer, die einen Verlust verarbeiten müssen. (...) Man ist nach wenigen Seiten von der Stadt und ihren Personen vollkommen absorbiert und möchte sie so schnell nicht mehr verlassen -- buchstäblich bis zum bitteren Ende." - Jürgen Brôcan, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The rest of the novelís generous, thoughtful narrative traces the impact of her disappearance on her family, her friends, her community. This is a novel about loss and healing; a novel that acknowledges the depth of loss and the limits of healing." - Erica Wagner, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Songs for the Missing is not crime-stopper-show material. It is darker, sadder. And for all the pain, no one is looking for lessons or self-help, which they could all use, if they ever thought about it that way. But somehow they don't. Which relates to the artistry of the book. O'Nan has an unerring ear, not only for words but also for the nuances of pain, which is connected to his unwavering commitment to render the truth, no matter the consequences. (...) 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." - Joseph Di Prisco, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "At one point, Kim's mother feels cheated by "the world's incoherence." O'Nan's triumph is writing about it coherently. Just don't start the novel at night if you're hoping to get much sleep." - Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

  • "O'Nan ignores all these conventions in favor of an approach so mundane you can't believe it works, the thriller equivalent of watching blood dry. He's a connoisseur of waiting, and it's his discipline, his refusal to deviate even for a single sentence from the uneventful, dull terror of losing a child, that makes Songs of the Missing so troubling. (...) What holds our attention through all this is O'Nan's careful focus on the minds of shaken family members trapped in a task that consumes their lives and their livelihood. (...) The world that O'Nan captures thwarts our expectations for cathartic tragedy or gleeful celebration, which makes the story even more devastating. This isn't the nightmare of losing your daughter; this is the numbing reality of it." - Ron Charles, The Washington Post

  • "Und darum geht es in diesem auf subtile Weise grandiosen Generationenroman. Um Leere, Vanitas, um die feinen Risse, die sich zwischen Eltern und Kindern, Geschwistern und Freunden auftun, die manchmal zu offenen Konflikten aufbrechen, um sich in seltenen Momenten der Gemeinsamkeit fast wieder zu schlieŖen. Es geht hier um das Leben selbst, das unaufhörlich große Schwestern ihren kleinen entfremdet, Mütter und Töchter einander anschreien, Kinder erwachsen und Eltern alt werden lässt." - Ulrich Baron, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Songs for the Missing is a novel of the everyday, and it begins with the everyday life of eighteen-year-old recent high school graduate Kim Larsen in July, 2005 -- hanging out with her friends, staying out late, at work with her close friend, Nina. One early afternoon she has to start getting ready for work, arranges with Nina to meet her there -- and that's the last anyone sees of her.
       Kim literally disappears, initially without any trace. There are no indications whatsoever that she's run away, but there's also no obvious sign of foul play. Her parents begin with the obvious -- calling her friends -- then quickly bring the police in (and are frustrated by how slow the police are to do everything that could be done). Soon they're surfing the Internet for the (unsettling) advice on how best to proceed -- which includes alerting as many people as possible, starting searches, getting publicity. They do all that, and still wind up with almost nothing to show for it.
       Songs for the Missing isn't much of a mystery or thriller. The family (and some of Kim's friends) are in the foreground, the police keeping them apprised of everything they're doing but leaving them feeling like it's never nearly enough (and also that they're being left out of at least part of the loop). What O'Nan explores is the feeling of uncertainty, of not knowing.
       O'Nan can't entirely keep the thriller-elements at bay. Kim's friends choose to lie to the police about a seedy character Kim had briefly been involved with; it comes out soon enough, irremediably alienating the Larsen family from Kim's friends. Kim's car turns up. And the closure O'Nan offers feels at odds with much of what he's done to that point: the (relatively) tidy resolution, as he presents it, is disappointing after everything else.
       Songs for the Missing describes how Kim's parents and younger sister and a few of Kim's friends try to move on, held back by the uncertainty of Kim's fate. Not knowing whether she is dead or alive, whether she ran away or came to harm, leaves them in a frustrating limbo -- and O'Nan captures that limbo very well. They all feel guilty, to varying degrees, too -- and worry about what they should feel, how they should act and appear. The rift between Kim's parents and Kim's friends also complicates matters, an unnecessary tension; Lindsay, Kim's younger sister, has a crush on Kim's former boyfriend, J.P., and continues to try to stay in touch with him, for example.
       O'Nan shifts his focus from chapter to chapter, focussing on what each of the main characters is going through. Time expands as the novel progresses, as O'Nan eventually jumps ahead by days, then weeks, then months. Change is both gradual and abrupt. Characters move on -- in the fall Kim's friends start college, and by the end even Lindsay has gone off to college -- and O'Nan is good at presenting those adjustments, of how the characters both hold on to Kim and let her go, moving on into new routines or getting back into their old ones. Life goes on for all of them, one way or another.
       By crowding his novel so O'Nan bites of more than he can chew. Each character is interesting to follow, their coping (or their inability to cope) well-handled, but the constant shifts detract from the individual stories. It becomes harder to empathises with characters that repeatedly disappear yet again into the background. Even just juggling the three perspectives of mother, father, and sister would have been a lot; as is, there is too much here, clouding the picture.
       While the whole is less than the sum of it its very fine parts, Songs for the Missing is nevertheless an effective exploration of loss.

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Links:

Songs for the Missing: Reviews: Other books by Stewart O'Nan interest under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Stewart O'Nan was born in 1961.

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© 2009 the complete review

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