Sunday, August 15, 2010

Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

WHAT in the WORLD made me read this book?

A disclaimer:  this is not an awful book.  I have nothing against the author, Ms. Gutcheon, and I'm actually interested in reading some of her other books, like Leeway Cottage.  When it arrived from the library, my gut told me this was going to be a difficult book.  I almost returned it unread, but thought I'd try a few pages yesterday. Well, I got sucked in and had to finish the whole thing, basically in one sitting.  So yes, it is well-written and suspenseful, but very disturbing.

What the heck was I thinking?  This is a book about a woman whose not-quite-seven-year-old son is snatched on his way to school.   If you are the least bit sensitive about this sort of thing, DO NOT READ IT, unless you want to be handcuffed to your children until they are 30.

Okay, the synopsis part:  one spring afternoon, Susan, a professor living in Boston, realizes that her "very responsible" son Alex, who is nearly seven, is late coming home from school.  A quick call to a friend reveals that he didn't show up that day.  Panic ensues.  Susan is separated from her husband, the unfaithful Graham, and the rest of the book chronicles the horror of a missing child.  It's not only about the initial stages of the tragedy, the media attention, the phone calls, crackpots, etc., but about the long-term effects.  After a while, the media and the community becomes tired, almost embarrassed, about her plight, and eventually, she's treated as kind of an outcast and a crackpot for still wanting to believe he's alive.  It was heart wrenching.

Perhaps I am overreacting, but I found this book really upsetting.  I actually got it from the library because it is included in the list of books the wonderful company Persephone publishes in the U.K.  This is so not like their other books, such as Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Miss Buncle's Book, etc., which have been charming domestic fiction written in the 1930s.  I've also recently enjoyed Kitchen Essays (1922) and Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes (originally published in The New Yorker during WWII).  Not. Like. Those. At. All!!!!

In its defense, the book is very well written, and (forgive me for slipping into cliche) a real page-turner.  I read the book all in one sitting -- because I had to find out what happened.  I used to read all kinds of thrillers, but I just don't have the stomach for them any more.   I can't even read Jodi Picoult, since her books are always about some kind of child tragedy.

Another thing that sort of bothered me was how homophobic the characters were.  This book was published in 1980, so I suppose that was typical of attitudes at that time; also, it's mostly unsympathetic characters who are spouting the slurs, but it still bothered me.

Other than than, it IS a good book if you don't mind this sort of thing. But I do.


  1. Actually, this is the first Persephone that I've read about that sounds interesting to me! Crazy. But I'm not sensitive to this sort of thing. I have other sensitivities. I'm guessing that if this bothers you, you shouldn't read Lolita next year!!

  2. I'll be avoiding this one then (and a lot of other popular books). I had to stop watching Law and Order: SVU when I had a kid because I became hypersensitive to crimes against children. Maybe one day I will read them but not while I have a little one!

  3. Amanda -- yeeeah, I am kind of leery about Lolita. I did read it back in college. I'll attempt it, but I make no promises.

    This IS a good book, I just should have listened to my instincts and skipped it. I'm really interested in the Persephones so I my judgement was swayed.

    Kristen -- I can't watch SVU either. I'm just really turned off about crimes against women and children. Icky. There's enough of that in real life. I don't expect all my books to be sweetness and light, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

  4. They made a film out of this with Kate Nelligan--it's available on Netflix. The plot sounded familiar when I read your review.

    It's older (written in the '50s) but the book Bunny Lake is Missing is a fascinating look at the child kidnap phenomena and a gripping psychological tale. Not that you're going to read it! Stay away from that film version too! I think a comparative look at these stories keyed into sociological trends throughout time would be cool.

  5. Well, I'll definitely be skipping this one! I do remember reading, and enjoying, Gutcheon's Five Fortunes many years ago. My next Persephone will probably be The Making of a Marchioness.

  6. Kerry -- I remember how The Deep End of the Ocean was a huge phenomenon when it was Oprah's first book, and I never could read it either. I did hear Still Missing is a film but I don't think I could watch it. Too gut-wrenching.

    JoAnn -- I realized after I'd read it that Gutcheon also wrote Leeway Cottage which I keep hearing about. It sounds very different and I think I'd like it. I also have The Making of a Marchioness so I hope to read it soon. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  7. Some idiot recommended I read The Deep End of the Ocean when my son was four--the same age as the missing child in that book--and it was awful! Gave me nightmares, literally. So I'll be skipping this one and looking for others by this author.

  8. Jeanne -- I was pregnant with my first child when that book came out and I am so glad I skipped it. Both my girls walk to school and I'll be watching them like a hawk until they're 18.

  9. I have lost the pages 379 through 383 and can't stand not knowing how it ends.... would anyone be willing to copy and e-mail me the last few.... if so thanks in advance!