By December 16, 2009 1 Comments Read More →

Authors You Should Try: Stewart O’Nan

last-night-at-the-lobsterStewart O’Nan is quickly turning into one of my favorite writers, a master of capturing the emotions of everyday people caught up in larger events.

Misha has already described the quiet joys of Last Night at the Lobster, a look behind the scenes at a Red Lobster restaurant which is about to be closed. I won’t say much more, except to note that since this is set just before Christmas, it would make a great December choice for book groups. At only 160 pages, it’s a quick but thoughtful read, providing a remarkable number of discussion threads for its size.

In his latest book, Songs for the Missing, O’Nan explores the aftermath of the abduction of a small town Ohio teen. We’re used to this story as the grounds for a thriller, but O’Nan takes a more realistic and emotionally powerful track, leaving the criminal investigation spinning its wheels unsuccessfully in the background. This book isn’t really about young Kimsongs-for-the-missing or her abductor, it’s about what happens to the people who are left behind when a loved one’s familiar presence suddenly becomes a vacuum. How much should one give to the search? How deeply can one grieve and at what point is it time to turn back toward the living? Is it OK to feel anger toward the departed? To keep loving them at the cost of the living? How will one’s acquaintances react? O’Nan explores all these questions in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Kim’s mother, father, sister, boyfriend, and best friend. Many of the feelings explored here would be relevant not just to those who have been through an abduction, but those who have experienced a death, an angry split, or any other situation in which a loved one was suddenly gone.

circus-fire1For something different, but equally good, try O’Nan’s early nonfiction title The Circus Fire. It’s the examination of what happened on July 6, 1944, when 167 people were killed and 487 injured in a tent fire during a Ringling Brothers circus stop in Hartford, Connecticut. O’Nan explores the causes of the fire and its resulting impact on circus practice, fire laws, and methods of identifying the dead after a disaster. More important, he looks in detail at the actual events of the day, including following the story of several of the people who were there. It shows the same touch as O’Nan’s fiction, never losing track of individuals in the face of larger events.

O’Nan has nine more novels, a story collection, and an ode to the 2004 Red Sox co-written with fellow New Englander Stephen King. Any of his works are worth your time, in a book group or without.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Authors You Should Try: Stewart O’Nan"

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  1. ckubala@columbiactlibrary.org' CarolK says:

    You don’t have to convince me. I’m definetly a O’Nan fan, having read all but Last Night at the Lobster. I, too, liked Songs for the Missing. Recommended it to someone recently who thought it was too slow but I really enjoyed it. Here’s what I said about it:
    Connecticut is fortunate to have many fine authors, Stewart O’Nan, being one of them. This past summer I read three books about missing children. One of these and the best by far was O’Nan’s Songs for the Missing. There are only so many plots and it always amazes me how differently each author will handle similar stories. It sounds like a simple plot. Eighteen year old Kim Larsen disappears from her Lake Erie town. Read this opening and see if you are not intrigued to continue…

    Description of the Person, when Last Seen

    July, 2005. It was the summer of the Chevette, of J.P. And letting her hair grow. The last summer, the best summer, the summer they’d dreamed of since eighth grade, the high and pride of being seniors lingering, an extension of their best year.

    It should have been a summer of swimming at the lake, after work late night dates, a last glorious summer respite before college life begins. All this changes in an instant. Here one moment, gone the next. O’Nan’s pen explores this tragic event so beautifully that at times you almost forget the underlying story of love, and loss. He gives us a detailed view of what it means to lose a loved one and how this missing affects each member of Kim’s family; how each relates to the other, the ebb and tide of hope, and how each member tries to live without being disloyal to Kim. It’s about the regrets, the sadness, the grief, what was and was not said or done.

    This is not a fast read and probably would not appeal to thriller readers. It takes a bit of commitment on the reader’s part but is definitely worth the effort. The best of O’Nan to date.

    Hope O’Nan picks up some new fans from your post. He deserves them!

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