This novel has received much acclaim for its unsparing, detailed dissection of the aftermath of a vital young woman's disappearance from her Midwestern town, yet another sad statistic in a growing body of such victims. The country has long been fascinated with the stories of such people, most often the objects of foul play; but as many families know, closure is infrequent and arbitrary, more likely endless years of never knowing the fate of a loved one. Such is the tragedy of Kim Larsen, a teen about to leave for college who disappears on her way to work one scorching summer afternoon, her family soon trapped in an endless cycle of hope and grief. It is this slow agony that O'Nan captures so perfectly, the first day stretching into months, a year, the family falling into what has become a ritual of search parties, fund-raising events and public service requests for the public's support.
While Kim's teenaged friends keep their own counsel, thereby hindering the immediate investigation, Kim's mother, father and younger sister experience the immediate trauma of a family member who simply never comes home again. Whatever trouble the teens are hiding- and this is never fully revealed- the fact causes a rift between Kim's family and friends that remains unresolved by the close of the novel, only one of the subtle reminders that often there simply are no answers. Not so the response of the family and community in crisis, everyone turning out for search parties, posting missing notices, a rush of press interviews, anything to increase awareness in those first critical hours.
The novel's content is its strength and the cause of my ambivalence, an endless diary of endurance as parents devote themselves to the search for their daughter, nearly obliterating life as they have known it. The familiar is rendered obsolete as one of them literally vanishes from the family unit, days become dreary rounds of details, an operation that allows little time for grieving. Hence my ambivalence: the endless trivia of searching for Kim leaches passion and personality from the characters, automatons in their activities, building an effective organization. In the end, Fran, Ed and fifteen-year-old Lindsay are no different than any of us, normal lives forever destroyed by a stunning, irreparable loss. O'Nan asks nothing more of his characters than that they survive. The result is the flat, desperate day-to-day endurance of reality, the detritus of daily duty in black and white without color or passion, Kim's family as victimized as their daughter and sister. Luan Gaines/ 2009.