four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The MissingTim Gautreaux is the author of the award-winning novels The Next Step in the Dance and The Clearing, as well as two collections of short stories. This is his third novel.

The Story: Sam Simoneaux picked up his nickname, Chanceux ("Lucky"), from a little girl in France, who gave him the name because his troop transport arrived from America on the last day of World War I. But Sam’s luck is tinged with guilt. He has always been haunted by death: when he was a baby his entire family was killed in a violent assault while he hid in the stove. Now, after the war, Sam has returned to something of a normal life, working as a security guard in New Orleans. But when a little girl is kidnapped under his watch and he sets out to find her, he begins a journey on a Mississippi riverboat that challenges his assumptions about violence, vengeance, and loss.
Knopf. 375 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0307270157

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The author paints the novel’s various settings with great skill, as he follows Sam from the battlefields of World War I, to 1920s New Orleans, to a riverboat navigating the Mississippi River. … Gautreaux’s novel, though in places as winding as the Mississippi itself, is a primal story about the meaning of loss, the pull of revenge, and the necessity of healing." Chuck Leddy

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"The Missing revisits the clash of post–World War I modernism with rural America that was at the heart of Gautreaux’s acclaimed 2003 novel The Clearing. Only now he has expanded the tableau and created a grand story with unconventional heft." Fred Grimm

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Gautreaux has written an incredibly interesting story, its plot perpetually reinvigorated by the kidnapping and its complications, and several tangential—but captivating—revenge missions. … The theme of being too late leads to a theme of irretrievable loss—the preemptive loss of memories—seen in Simoneaux’s growing desire to learn more about his murdered family." Max Ross

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Gautreaux is an old-fashioned storyteller, a spinner of yarns with a moral. Make no mistake, vengeance begets vengeance. But love is an equally powerful force in this novel, which comes to a moving and resonant conclusion as Sam’s life and the missing girl’s converge in an unexpected way." Malena Watrous

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The Missing is in large part a meditation on the bewildering complexities—and the fundamentally solitary nature—of loss. … With The Missing, Mr. Gautreaux, an often lyrical writer and a descendant of riverboat pilots, has given us a compelling adventure tale with a moral center." Julia Reed

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Tim Gautreaux’s new novel is set right after World War I, but so much of his peripatetic story involves the adventures of an old Mississippi riverboat that it’s hard not to think of Mark Twain. Indeed, there’s something 19th-century about The Missing, this slightly improbable, morally serious but continually engaging novel about a kidnapped child." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Reviewers appreciated not just the prose and the characters of The Missing but also how different it was from most contemporary novels. While much fiction today revels in ambiguity and irony, Gautreaux’s story has an overall moral theme about justice and revenge. That’s not to say it’s a sermon, however: several critics compared the book to an adventure novel. They also appreciated the book’s unusual pacing that "carries us along as it branches and swells, as if inspired by the great river on which so much of this book takes place" (Washington Post). Gautreaux establishes much of Sam’s backstory in the beginning and then devotes the rest of the book to Sam’s time working on a steamboat and pursuing the missing girl. All of this adds up to a work that critics found moving and highly original.