Novel Reflects Desperate But Futile Search For Answers

Inspired by the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, author Jonathan Evison recommends the novel Songs for the Missing, by Stewart O'Nan, as a book with something to say about mysterious disappearances.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

All week, NPR has been reporting on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370. And to help us make sense of the news, we turn now to literature. Here's author Jonathan Evison.

JONATHAN EVISON: What happens when our systems fail us, our institutions and technology, the networks we put in place for our protection? What if the information we can cobble together only deepens the mystery, compounds our unknowing? How far will we go for the answers we have to have? These are just a few of the troubling questions about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. And even though Stewart O'Nan's brilliant novel "Songs for the Missing" doesn't feature an ill-fated airliner, it raises many of the same ones.

The novel is about an 18-year-old named Kim Larsen who goes missing on her way to work in a small Midwestern town. It's not just her family that struggles, it's the whole community. They make phone calls, assemble lists, canvas the town, distribute fliers and sift through one false lead after another. But even with all this investigation and a blitz of media attention, what little information does emerge only accentuates what we don't know about Kim's fate. She's simply gone.

Even though he has a perfect setup, O'Nan's novel isn't a crime thriller. Instead, it's a deeply human, finely detailed, achingly sympathetic approach to the characters, which one critic called the thriller equivalent of watching blood dry. But that's also its genius. O'Nan takes this uncertainty to torturous heights and shows us where not knowing will take us, long after our precautions, safeguards and best efforts have failed.

RATH: The book is "Songs for the Missing" by Stewart O'Nan. It was recommended by author Jonathan Evison.

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