The Sweet Relief of Missing Children
By Sarah Braunstein
W.W. Norton & Company
February 28, 2011
The Short of It:
From the very first page, I was captivated.
The Rest of It:
I want to be especially careful when describing this story to you because although the title does indicate that it’s about a missing child, it’s also about love and loss, what it means to be a parent, self-discovery and fear. Told through alternating viewpoints, the story is given to us in bits and pieces with each section beautifully detailed.
In New York City, Leonora makes a dreadful mistake and ends up missing, without a trace. As she tells her story, the reader is made painfully aware that she realized her mistake rather quickly, yet there was no way to change her course once the mistake was made.
Goldie is a single mom raising a young boy. She’s desperate to find the perfect man. One who will hopefully help raise her son, Paul. Although her intentions are good, she is overridden by fear. Fear that her looks are going. Fear that she will never find the perfect man. Her desperation completely alienates her son which forces him to run away in order to save himself.
Grace’s life is not quite what she expected. Her daughter has run away without any explanation. Searching her room for details, it occurs to her that she doesn’t really know who her daughter is. The realization of this forces her to recall a decision to made sixteen years ago. One in which she decided to keep her baby. Filled with “what ifs”, Grace ponders the life she’s been given.
Connie is playing the role of housewife, but there is a little piece of her that wants to tempt fate. As she and her husband raise their nephew, she fantasizes about the boy and gets encouragement from the boy’s dead mother, who appears to her when she needs a bit of guidance. The constant pull to do right, over wrong is what Connie obsesses over.
Then, there’s Tom. Tom has fantasies too, one of which involves peeping in on Goldie and her son, Paul.
The Sweet Relief of Missing Children is a stunning example of why I love reading. The stories come together effortlessly and the prose is delicate and pure in a way that I find terribly hard to describe, so here are some examples:
Connie, in her house coat ponders a nap in the middle of the day.
A nap was a crime on a day like this. It was a glorious day, a perfect spring day, but she didn’t want to be outside. Outside was hairy caterpillars and hippies, mud on your shoes, boys and girls shooting each other significant glances they were so stupid as to think no one saw. She saw. A nun could see. Heat. Halter tops. The way a jaw worked chewing gum. Outside was, to put it mildly, a mess; total rudeness. (154, 155)
It’s Paul’s birthday and his mother has not given him a proper gift.
What he wanted was the opposite of candor. He wanted the lie of silence and cake. He wanted a serene smile, and for her to take him into her arms, and to feel that she had no other need, and for her mouth to stop, just for tonight, his birthday. (29)
I can’t say enough about this book. This is Braunstein’s first novel and all you probably need to know, is that once I finished it, I was tempted to turn to page one and start all over again. It has a slightly voyeuristic feel to it and once you start it, it’s nearly impossible to put down. I recommend it highly and I’m adding it to my list of faves for 2011.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.