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.

19 thoughts on “How Would You Live If Your Child Were Still Missing?

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  1. I’m not sure I could read this. The subject is terrifying to me even though my children are grown up adults on their own. The truth is there were moments with both of my children when they were small when they wandered out of sight and were “missing” for up to ten minutes. Once I called the police. Everything worked out, but I can’t bear hearing about those few tragic instances when something terrible happens.

    1. It is a really hard read from the perspective of a mother for sure. It is an awful feeling when you lose sight of them. I haven’t had a long experience, but I have had them. Not fun for sure!

  2. Sounds difficult to read, in the emotional sense. There was a book I read years ago, shame I can’t remember the name, that was based on a young girl being taken back to her mother by her kidnapper. It was…harrowing, because she didn’t want to go back. To her, the kidnapper was her family. Her mother was just some stranger.

    And Persephone Books…such a great idea. I’m going to have to check them out. And add ‘Still Missing’ to my to read list. Thanks for sharing.

  3. An interesting review to say the least. I find it fascinating that as humans we worry about many things that will probably never ever happen. But when some things do happen, most humans can’t handle them and break down: emotionally, financially, physically and ect. For myself, to read a novel such as this, would be like for an Olympian going into MacDonalds or Dunkin’ Donuts and start pigging out. He will probably throw up everything later. As a Christian I’m not allowed ( advise from the Bible) to dwell on things that are not pure, noble or praiseworthy, but after walking with the Lord for almost 20 years, I think I don’t really want to myself. Reading such a book must cause an emotional side effect: ‘an indigestion or a diarrhea’. Beth Gutcheon does not sound like an inspiring author to me, especially this novel ‘Still missing’. Thank you for spearing me from emotional side effects & waste of my time. But I would recommend to anyone who is craving a similar genre, a film drama by Michael Straczynski ‘Changeling’. Truly inspiring.

    1. It certainly does cause emotional side effects! And I loved Changeling. Such an interesting movie, but I hated the murder scene. So upsetting, and probably more so than this book!

        1. I remember there being a murder scene with the man who kidnapped the boys. I believe they also show his hanging at the end of the movie. Maybe I’ve mixed it up with another movie, but I don’t think so.

  4. Emily, I would have a tough time reading this. When my kids get injured or were missing for a few seconds or minutes, they were the worst few minutes of my life. Twenty seconds of missing can seem like an eternity. I remember the relief when we found them – one did exactly as we rehearsed if we got separated and the other took a different path at a zoo. I could not tolerate them missing without knowing what happened. All the best, BTG

  5. Emily I would die, I would go mad. As you’ve so simply yet eloquently said in many ways in this post: this has to be the number one nightmare for every mom. I know the books are written to share the experience so others can take heart and learn and be strong but my god, I cannot wrap my head around what would happen if god forbid, my children went missing. One thing I do know – if there was even the slightest chance that they could be alive, I would never be able to give up looking for them. Hope is actually what makes the world go around. Great post by the way, I enjoy learning about the books you read.

    1. Brinda, I think you just said it better than I did. It would be a feeling of wanting to die for sure. And just pure panic and guilt and anxiety. Just thinking about it now from your description is making me feel those things! Thanks for reading. I am glad you are here and enjoying my ramblings. 🙂

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