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10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodActs of InfidelityAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAsymmetryAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBring Them HomeBruisesBrŁselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCirceCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCountryCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! Cross CurrentsDante's PoisonDante's WoodDarkest FearDating Without NovocaineDead BoysDead Canaries Don't SingDead EndDead EvenDeadly AdviceDeadly ButterflyDeadly GambleDeaf SentenceDear American AirlinesDear Zoe,Death of a Department ChairDeath of an AddictDeath with InterruptionsDeath Without TenureDeceitDecemberDeceptionDefending JacobDeliverance From EvilDemonologyDepraved HeartDictatorDisobedienceDisturbing GroundDivine JusticeDivisaderoDixie RoadDon't Wake UpDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDriftlessDuplicityEcstasyEmerald City BluesEmpire FallsEmpress of the WorldEnd over EndEven DeadlierEven Dogs in the WildEvenings at FiveEvery Note PlayedEvery Visible ThingEye ContactFacesFaking ItFalling ManFamily and Other CatastrophesFamily HistoryFascinationFat Angie Fear of the DarkFeeling Sorry for CeliaFellsideFeminist Philosophy And Science FictionFever 1793Field of BloodFinal JeopardyFlashpointFlat Lake in WinterFlorid StatesForgive the MoonFortunate SonFortune's RocksFour Blind MiceFour CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzFull DisclosureGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood and GoneGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcererís StoneHe Counts Their TearsHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHow to Stop TimeHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultŤreJust LifeKeeping LucyKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnife CreekKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLillian in LoveLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLiíl SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for 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Woman UpstairsThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsTherapyThere Are No EldersThings You Didnt SeeThings You Should KnowThinks...Third Class SuperheroThirty NothingThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadThumbsuckerTimothy Tunny Swallowed a BunnyTina's MouthTiny DeathsTisToby's RoomTony & SusanToo CloseToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTouching Spirit BearTouchy SubjectsTrailer GirlTransparencyTraumaTreacherous LoveTrespassTriburbiaTrust ExerciseTucker PeakTuringTwentieth Century EightballTwinmakerTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the DamUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnfitUnholy StoriesUniversal HarvesterUnkemptUnlessUp in FlamesUp in the AirUpstateVacuum in the DarkValenciaVenus DriveVeronika Decides to DieVery ValentineViolet & ClaireVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWakeWarlightWastelandWatching the DarkWatching YouWe Are All Completely Beside 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In 2005 Kim Larsen is eighteen years of age and anticipating escape to college from the stultifying smallness of her Midwest hometown of Kingsville, Ohio. Given the title of Stewart O'Nan's novel you know this dream is not going to be realized. What you don't know is how events will play out, and what will become of the characters. O'Nan gives a sly clue to the temper of the novel in his description of the sins of the Midwest: "flatness, emptiness, and a necessary acceptance of the familiar." Songs for the Missing, from its opening pages, holds the reader in the grip of an inexorable sameness, in which the region, and the inward looking temperament it seems to engender, are the major players, triumphing over individuals who might try to escape them. Kim goes missing, her car is found, but there is no sign of Kim. As the investigation progresses, or rather meanders, there are few clues, and although some unknown aspects of Kim's life come to light they lead nowhere. Eventually, despite the efforts of Kim's mother, the investigation goes cold, and life closes over for the Larsen family who seem to draw on new reserves of resignation to persevere. Kim's girlfriends Nina and Elise get on with their lives, as does JP, Kim's boyfriend of the time, the one who was only for the summer, and only because Kim couldn't manage to find someone else.
The question with this novel is whether the story, and the telling of it, rise above the sheer mundaneness of the lives it describes. You can certainly see why Kim would want to escape. Every business in Kingsville has a generic name, like "The Conoco", "Giant Eagle" and "Dairy Queen". The newspaper is the Star-Beacon. Kentucky Fried Chicken sounds exotic. Kim's father Ed is a realtor whose business has slackened even before the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. Mom Fran is a nurse at the local Emergency Department, a job which in the prevailing pessimism of Songs for the Missing provides an advance view of the likely misfortunes of her children. Younger sister Lindsay is a reclusive geek bordering on anorexia. Given the premise of the story, and the uninspiring ordinariness of the setting, readers need something to make for a satisfying read. I didn't find that something in this book. Kim simply goes missing, but the possibilities for drama are left unexploited. Other characters get older, but we don't really get closer to them. And there is no real resolution to the narrative; it is a simple matter of time passing. This would all be ok if it was merely a matter of authorial restraint, but I found many of the devices of the story unconvincing. There is a sense of O'Nan satisfying the need for narrative direction, but a reluctance to let the narrative be the story. And then there are those characters, Kim's parents, her sister, and her friends, who seem little changed at the end of the story.
Towards the end of the novel there's a glimpse of a world beyond the Midwest as Lindsay briefly considers taking flight to San Francisco, rather than home to her family. But this is a fleeting thought and, despite her misgivings, Lindsay is soon back in the familiar dullness of Kingsville, apparently maturing into the dutiful daughter to her aging parents. Songs for the Missing avoids the contrived resolution of most thrillers, and the gratuitous descriptions that pass for horror in other novels. Such discipline is very much to O'Nan's credit. The premise of this story would become melodrama or schmaltz at the keyboard of a lesser writer. I would just like, like Kim, to feel there was something more to that flat, empty and excrutiatingly familiar Midwest landscape, and something more to those lifeless, predictable characters.
© 2009 Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien is a short story writer, and lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Auckland, New Zealand: firstname.lastname@example.org