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Still Missing is a novel of therapy where almost no therapy occurs. The narrator, Annie, talks to her therapist about her abduction and imprisonment by a disturbed man who controls all her actions. Each chapter is a different session where she tells her unfolding story, explaining not only what happened in the abduction, but also her relationships with her boyfriend Luke, her mother, and one of the investigating detectives. By the end of the novel, we find out the full extent of the undermining of her life, which should be emotionally overpowering. However, while the revelations are surprising, they in fact don't carry much emotional weight. For a novel of trauma and therapy, it is strangely flat in its tone.
The strength of the writing lies in its ability to keep you reading -- or listening to the unabridged audiobook performed by Angela Dawe. Dawe reads consistently and gives her characters different personalities. Arguably a more eccentric performance would make Annie's experience more convincing, but the constraints of her character make that difficult. She is a hardboiled realtor who shows houses and does not like talking about her feelings. When she was a child her father and sister died in a car accident, and she spent the rest of her childhood dealing with her drunk mother. So she has plenty of defenses and does not like baring her soul to others.
The problem of giving a convincing reading is exacerbated by the artificiality of the novel's form: no therapy is remotely like this. People do not narrate their story in detail with no interruptions from a therapist. Occasionally she makes references to the ideas of the therapist, suggesting that the doctor is making comments but they are not included in the text, but this is not carried through consistently. More important, the lack of emotional variation that is typical of therapy is missing. She reports strong reactions to crucial events in her story, but she never displays them in her behavior. She never cries and she has no interaction with her therapist. Even when the bottom falls out of her life, she reports it with a mere shrug of defiance.
So we are left with an emotionally distant narrating of a horrific experience. The abductor David believes that he is doing Annie a favor by taking her away from the moral pollution of the contemporary world. Annie tries to work out how to survive and escape by getting to know him and finding out his weaknesses and his motivations. He rapes her regularly, and she has to find the right way to react in order to get him to open up. This twisted relationship may be the most striking part of the novel, but it does not go very far. Still Missing suffers in comparison with Room by Emma Donoghue, which has the strong relationship between the mother and child at its heart, develops the relationship between the woman and her abductor more, and takes the therapy side of the story much more seriously.
Still, author Stevens has written a distinctive story that holds your attention, and it is easy to just forget about the supposed therapeutic setting. It is a novel of unhappy lives and desperate actions where the narrator works out how completely messed up her world is. It won't appeal to all readers, but those who like their mysteries very noir should appreciate it.
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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