How Would You Live If Your Child Were Still Missing?

I decided to read Still Missing (1981) by Beth Gutcheon because of this bookmark.

It’s a bookmark from Persephone Books.  They send me one each time they send out their catalog.  Persephone books is based in London and is reprinting forgotten female novels.  I love their goals and I love their books.

So, when it was my turn to pick a book for the club my sisters and I used not have together, I picked Still Missing.  It’s about a mother who sends her little boy off to school and doesn’t realize that he has gone missing until she gets home from work that day.  He was taken before school, but she did not realize it.  This simple plot twist makes me grateful each time my daughter’s school calls to tell me that she was marked absent on the roll.  I already know that she’s absent because she’s home with me, usually sick, and they don’t call if they get the message I left on the attendance line.  If I did not already know where my daughter was, that phone call would be terrifying and helpful if a kidnapping investigation were to ensue.  (I know.  I’m dramatic.)

The novel is loosely based on the Etan Patz case in New York City several decades ago, a case that was recently solved.  It follows the mother’s panic and months of worry as the police search for her son and eventually lose interest.  Eventually, just she and one police detective are still looking for the boy, and as a reader, I began to lose hope.  The novel seemed to be about the mother’s grief and the estranged father’s affairs and grief.  I did not know if there would be a resolution to the kidnapping.  I am not going to tell you either, in case you want to read it and experience the same suspense and worry that I did.

still missing cover
But the book made me think about what I would do if one of my daughters were kidnapped or went missing.  How would I handle it?  Could I go on?  I wouldn’t want to leave the house for fear and hope that they would come back.  I wouldn’t trust again, and I would have a hard time sleeping and eating and being dry-eyed generally.

The book also explores an interesting theme of homosexuals as pedophiles.  I know this is a myth.  It’s a myth that angers me, but I find it still perpetuated.  The police in this novel zero in on a suspect who is gay and assume that he is a pedophile and must have taken the boy.  He’s also an acquaintance of the mother, and the mother turns on him as well.  That’s another consequence.  Who could you trust?  How easy it would be to turn on people you know and love as suspects.

Overall, this novel is interesting but not a fine work of literature.  It’s gut wrenching and heartbreaking.  It’s also full of foul language and explicit sex, two features in a book I don’t appreciate (and features that aren’t usually part of the reprints from Persephone Books).  But I’m glad I discovered it through Persephone Books.  They’ve introduced me to a lot of “forgotten” novels written by women.