Likely Stories: Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

Mar 5, 2020

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

According to the Penguin notice, Stewart O’Nan is the author of eleven novels and two works of nonfiction.  I first read his work in, Last Night at the Lobster, which became a national bestseller.  He has won a number of awards, and Granta named him one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists.  He lives with his family in Connecticut.   Just finished Songs for the Missing.  This novel is intense.  The story carries the lives of a family through immense trauma, and the heartache rides with them to the end.


The terror begins.  O’Nan writes, “Kims mother was asleep.  Her father was asleep.  Lindsey, who’d struck out twice and made an error at second base, was asleep, Cooper snoring next to Ed and Fran Larsen have two daughters, Kim and Lindsay.  The parents seem reasonably normal, as are the two teens.  One night, Kim does not come home.  Kim often spends time with two other friends, Nina, Elise; they called themselves the Three Amigos.  They did a lot of things together, as many young women are likely to do.

The story begins with an ominous description of Kim.  O’Nan writes, “Description of the Person, When Last Seen.  July 2005.  It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.  The last summer, the best summer, the summer they’d dreamed of since eighth grade, the high and pride of being seniors lingering, an extension of their best year. […]  In the fall they were gone, off to college, where she hopped by a long and steady effort, she might become someone else, a private, independent person, someone not from Kingsville at all” (1).

Kim was a relatively responsible person.  O’Nan writes, “Her new curfew was two o’clock, a compromise neither side liked.  Her mother worked in the emergency room and thought everyone was going to die in a car crash.  Her father was calmer, framing his argument in terms of insurance premiums.  She needed to remember (as if she could forget), she was still living under their roof” (4).

her on the bed. // In the middle of the night her father woke up to go to the bathroom and noticed the line of light under their closed door.  In the morning the light was still on.  Her door was open, her bed untouched.  The light in the downstairs hall was on, and the outside light by the back door, invisible during the day.  Her car was not in the driveway. // The first person her mother called was Nin. // The second was J.P. [a friend of the girls]. // The third was Connie at the hospital/ // The fourth was the police” (15).

From this point on, the terror which continuously takes the family and friends on a roller coaster ride, pulls the reader right along with them.  At each piece of hope, followed by each disappointment places the reader beside each hopeful phone call and each devastating and tantalizing drop.  Stewart O’Nan tale Songs for the Missing deftly and precisely carried me all the way to the end.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!