Taut prose and matter-of-fact detail enrich this compelling portrait of teenage life in small-town Ohio, as the disappearance of a popular girl on the cusp of leaving home for college changes the communal dynamic of family and friends.
The latest from O’Nan (Last Night at the Lobster, 2007, etc.) initially reads like a whodunit, but who or why become less important than the character of the vanished Kim Larsen from the differing memories of those who knew her best—or thought they did—and the ways in which Kim’s disappearance allows all sorts of revelations to come to light. The opening chapter is the only one that views Kim’s life from her own perspective: the job she tolerates, the little sister who occasionally annoys her, the parents whose tension between them sometimes rises to the surface, the friends with whom she shares routines and some confidences, the boyfriend with whom she isn’t serious enough to stay with past the summer. She anticipates college as an escape from the town where “every night they fought a war against boredom and lost,” yet she’s understandably apprehensive about living away from home. Then she disappears, putting her parents into a panic, forcing her friends to decide which secrets to reveal, uniting the community in its attempts to aid the search and offer support to the family. Will Kim’s disappearance end her parents’ marriage or make it stronger? Is there a logical explanation, a motive, or is this simply evidence of “the world’s incoherence”? Though the author sustains narrative momentum through the conventions of the police procedural (with chapter headings such as “Description of the Person, When Last Seen” and “Known Whereabouts”), ultimately the novel is less about a possible crime than about the interconnections of small-town life. “The problem was that everything was connected,” thinks one of Kim’s friends. “One lie covered another, which covered a third, which rested against a fourth. It all went back to Kingsville being so goddamn small.”
A novel in which every word rings true.