two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-MissingMomIn her 50th novel, Oates introduces 31-year-old Nikki Eaton, a "single, sexually liberated, economically self-supporting" newspaper reporter in upstate New York. Ever the nonconformist, Nikki stands in stark contrast to her relentlessly conventional, married-with-children older sister, Clare. When their ultratraditional, recently widowed mother is brutally murdered, Nikki, who never particularly identified herself as a daughter, attempts to come to terms with her mother’s untimely death and unexamined life. In the process, she reevaluates her own relationship with a married man and discovers a new love interest.
Ecco. 434 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 006081621X

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Oates shows perfectly the tension between the two sisters. … If you’ve lost a parent, this is an excellent book to read for understanding, but not for forgetting." Anne Morris

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Oates’s grip on crime, violence and the long-buried is sure, but Missing Mom is actually more disturbing in its relentless, dead-on accretion of small-town, middle-class details. Oates piles them on with pitiless virtuosity." Stacey D’Erasmo

Christian Science Monitor 2 of 5 Stars
"The plot and characters are so relentlessly conventional, it’s almost as if Oates decided to try her hand at a chick-lit novel. This is certainly her right, but the results feel a bit like hiring chef Ming Tsai to grill hot dogs." Yvonne Zipp

New Statesman 2 of 5 Stars
"By failing in her own details, Oates unravels the very thing she is writing about—the beauty, economy, and gravity of what is seen to be small. … Oates’s venture into mother-daughter fiction is a brave one; yet … it feels half-baked." Sophie Ratcliffe

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"There are some lovely insights here, and the story is told with a confident ease from Page 1. However, when compared with some of Oates’s other, more masterly works (Black Water, We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde) Missing Mom is uneven and thin." Amy Johnson

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"There may be great literature waiting to be written about these neurotic girls … and I suspect no one could tell that story with more wit than Oates herself. But she’s chosen a shrill voice for it here." Marianne Wiggins

Critical Summary

"This is my story about missing my mother," Nikki says at the start of Missing Mom. "One day, in a way unique to you, it will be your story, too." Although many critics compared Missing Mom to Oates’s classic, We Were the Mulvaneys, they agreed that the latter is the far superior work. Reviewers thought Nikki inconsistent and uneven; other characters came off as flat. Only the mother remained in their minds as a magnificent, realistic character—one of Oates’s best to date, in fact, since Oates reveals the underestimated supermom as a woman with her own secrets and complexity. Others, however, criticized the plot as lacking originality and surprise. Though Missing Mom disappointed critics in light of their lofty expectations of this award-winning author, the good news is that there’s probably another novel just around the corner.