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Among the Missing (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – January 29, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Dan Chaon opens his new collection of stories with an epigraph from Raymond Carver: "Whatever this was all about, it was not a vain attempt--journey." This is pretty opaque stuff from Carver, a writer not much given to mystification. But it strikes just the right note for Chaon's assembly of characters, a group vaguely unsettled by life, trying to make the best of it. First and foremost, this is a book beset by moms. You get the feeling that the characters in Among the Missing never really had a chance to figure out the world, with these cryptic, uncommunicative women to care for them. In the title story, for example, a car is discovered at the bottom of a local lake, with an entire family drowned inside. The college-age narrator, however, is preoccupied by the more mundane puzzle of his parents' relationship. "Somehow," he recounts, "they'd stayed married for twenty years, and then, abruptly, somehow they'd decided to give up. It didn't quite make sense, and I looked at them, for a minute aware of the other mystery in my life. 'Do you want some soup?' my mother asked, as if I were a customer."

That's about as much as you'll ever get out of one of Chaon's mothers: soup. When not fielding their aging parents' passivity, these characters seem to spend a lot of time grappling with ghosts. The "missing" of the title story are, literally, gone. In "Safety Man," a widow comes to rely on one of those inflatable dolls meant to intimidate intruders. In "Prosthesis," a young wife and mother falls for a stranger with a missing arm; meanwhile, she watches her son grow up and away from her, "disappearing into his own thoughts and feelings." In the end, Chaon is the rare writer who deserves comparison to Carver: both write an affectless prose that takes on a surprisingly emotional life of its own. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the 12 quietly accomplished stories of his second collection, Chaon explores the complicated geography of human relationships, from the unintentional failures and minute betrayals of daily existence to the numbing grief caused by abandonment, disappearance or death. Specific and disquieting absences an uncle who killed himself, a mother who vanished, a friend who was kidnapped haunt the protagonists, and a series of metaphoric and literal stand-ins take the place of what's missing. In "Safety Man," a dummy intended for crime deterrence propped in the passenger seat, it looks like a male companion becomes a kind of surrogate husband for a young widow, and for her daughters, an inflatable father; in "I Demand to Know Where You're Taking Me," a woman caring for her incarcerated brother-in-law's macaw comes to loathe the bird, its ugly talk transforming it into a symbol of everything wrong and incomprehensible about him. By and large, Chaon's characters are citizens of the emotional hinterlands, lonely even when surrounded: "How did people go about falling in love, getting married, having families, living their lives?" Even those who think they know the answers recognize their powerlessness, such as the father who, looking into his son's eyes, thinks, "I am aware that hatred is a definite possibility at the end of the long tunnel of parenthood, and I suspect that there is little one can do about it." And yet these stories are neither morbid nor even particularly melancholic. Singularly dedicated to an examination of all the profundity and strangeness of the quotidian, they are, in their best moments, unsettling, moving, even beautiful. (July 3)Forecast: A jacket blurb by Lorrie Moore and a five-city author tour may help sell this understated collection, which will be respectfully reviewed but may be overlooked on bookstore shelves.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (January 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345441613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345441614
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #753,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In most "good" short story collections, the "great"-to-"clunker" ratio seems to run about 50-50. Let's face it. It's damn hard to come up with a dozen good-and-different ideas, situations, and/or conflicts; people these situations with compelling and well-drawn characters; and provide some sort of satisfying conclusion in about 20 pages of copy. Many published collections even get by with one or two decent stories (aided by a fluke publication in "The NewYorker"), and the rest are not-ready-for-prime-time "filler." So, turning the pages of Dan Chaon's collection, "Among the Missing," you might feel like you've fallen into some great dream. Story after mind-blowing story, you keep waiting to wake-up to reality, to finally hit a clunker, but it never comes. "Among the Missing" truly deserves the superlative kudos blurbing its book jacket, (and it probably deserved the National Book Award, as well).
There is something or someone "missing" from each of the stories in this perfectly-titled collection. Although not ghost stories, the characters here are plenty haunted - most by a deep sense of absence. "Safety Man" touchingly paints a young widow's dependency on an inflatable version of a man to protect her family and herself, now that her husband is gone. In "Passengers, Remain Calm," another man has abandoned his family, leaving his eight-year-old son fatherless until his conflicted younger brother steps into that role. In the wonderful, "I Demand to Know Where You're Taking Me," a woman is haunted by her imprisoned brother-in-law and the knowledge of his guilt, and takes-out her lonely rage on a nasty-mouthed parrot.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Among the plethora of short story collections that thankfully are gracing our bookstores and libraries Dan Chaon's "Among the Missing" is among the best. These beautifully constructed, elegantly conceived and written stories are rare insights into the alienation and angst that blankets our population. For decades the families of America have been disintegrating by divorce, by substance abuse, by diminished parenting skills and we are left with a landscape peopled by young and middle-aged men and women who find it increasingly difficult to connect to their roots, to any semblance of family history, to significant realtionships - primarily because of the lack of consistent and reliable role models. This is not to suggest that Chaon is bent on telling depressing yarns that exceed the realm of "ususal people". Quite the contrary, he creates people and parent/child tales that sorrowfully inform us just how universal some of our own fears and insecurites are. Chaon is not a preachy author: he pulls us in to stories that hypnotize because of the astonishing degree of interestingly creative tales. He paints landscapes and houses and faces with such deft strokes that were it not for the fact that these stories are fiction he could be labelled a literary photo-realist. For all the inherent sadness in his characters we are never drowned in depression. Chaon can make sinister and sad memories somehow tender connections to people about whom we've grown to care very much. We all await his upcoming novel!
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Format: Hardcover
This bittersweet collection by Dan Chaon is an emotional collage of stories related only by theme: someone, or something, is missing. What these characters miss most is understanding of their lives and those of their loved ones. Parents, in particular, can be touched physically but never truly known because their private moments are too far out of reach. Sometimes the absence in these stories is real: a missing family ("Among the Missing) or an arm ("Prothesis"). Mostly, however, the gaping hole is more internal, such as the difficult reality forgotten by the odd, overly imaginative boy in "Big Me." In these stories, people are strangers to one another, even though they might live together or profoundly and unwittingly affect the course of one another's lives.
Chaon uses uncomplicated language that disarms the reader with its simplicity. His prose is so undemanding on the surface that the emotion undercurrents can sneak up on you, such as in "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom" when the final line of the story gives us a glimpse of the desperation, loneliness, and incomprehension of the protagonist: "He could have sworn in his heart that something terrible had happened to the world, and that everyone knew it but him."
If you are a reader of short fiction, you won't be disappointed with AMONG THE MISSING.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Don Chaon's work, "Among The Missing", lost out to, "The Corrections", for the best work of fiction for The National Book Awards, I have not read the winning novel, however it must have been very good to share company with these dozen tales. Many of these stories while not mainstream America are all too familiar. Mr. Chaon takes some very common events and makes them noteworthy with their conclusions.
The stories are not narrow variations on a theme, some center on an event, others on a group, and still others on individuals. The opening story, "Safety Man", would seem to belong in the category of the surreal from the comments on the book jacket. It is an altogether serious look at how loss is mitigated, and how solutions/substitutions that are not readily apparent can be legitimate. "Among The Missing", that also titles the book will bring memories from the real world to mind at once. A family outing in their car could not be a more normal event. The final locale continues to include the entire family much as they started out, however with a great mystery and tragedy as the destination.
One of the stories that stood out in my reading was, "Passengers, Remain Calm". This story veers away from its title immediately and barely makes it back, or not, depending on your interpretation. A carnival again is an event that is familiar to the majority of readers, however Mr. Chaon sees this event through a relationship, and does so through his unique view. In this and others stories that struggle to rise above melancholy, or worse, even here the spin leaves the reader feeling ambivalent.
This is the first time I have read this man's work, and I will certainly pursue more. This is not a book that will lift your spirits, but I don't believe that was his goal. He offers a grim view that is all too familiar.
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