The Disappearance is about every parent’s worst nightmare — the unexplained disappearance of a child. The Sandler family is a happy, affluent family spending the summer in the small Massachusetts town of Smithfield. The two parents — Joshua and Nathalie — dote on their 14-year-old son Daniel. Nathalie thrives as a cellist for the New York Philharmonic. Joshua has taken over the family business and made it successful — enough so that he is able to invest in a new resort being built near Smithfield. And Daniel is a parent’s dream — smart, athletic, personable. Although Daniel and Joshua have begun to butt heads as Daniel begins to establish himself as his own man, the family is essential happy and loving. So, one ordinary afternoon, when Joshua and Nathalie run a mundane errand into town and leave Daniel behind, they have no reason to think twice about it. But when they return, Daniel is gone. With no real reason to worry, they believe he has gone out with his friends or for a walk. But as the hours pass and Daniel doesn’t show up, Joshua and Nathalie begin to worry. They begin calling Dan’s friends, checking with neighbors and searching their small town. But Daniel doesn’t come home, and Joshua and Nathalie become increasingly concerned and frantic. They call the police, and the search for Daniel begins in earnest. Days pass and no trace of Daniel is found. Joshua — increasingly frustrated by the police’s failure to find his son — takes matters into his own hands and begins conducting his own investigation. He is unable to sit still knowing that Daniel might be out there somewhere. And as days turn to weeks and weeks into months, Joshua becomes obsessed with finding answers. He is always in motion, always looking for new avenues to explore. By contrast, Nathalie shuts down — barely able to take care of herself. Her beloved cello sits neglected. She drops out of life. The strain on their marriage takes a toll. And, then, the mystery of what happened to Daniel is solved — but is it too late for Joshua and Nathalie?
When I first started this book, I thought I was getting a standard-issue whodunit: “A boy goes missing. What happened to him?” But I found so much more. The mystery of what happened to Daniel is really almost secondary to the primary story — which is how Daniel’s disappearance affects Joshua, Nathalie and their marriage. In fact, the mechanics of solving the mystery of what happened to Daniel were the least satisfying aspects of the book. Of course you want to know what happened, but I felt the driving force of the book is not solving this mystery. Instead, the book is a well-written character study of Joshua and Nathalie and how Daniel’s disappearance affects them.
I’ve always read that the death or disappearance of a child usually affects each parent differently — to the point where marriages are often destroyed rather than cemented by a common grief. Joshua’s need to take action contrasts strongly with Nathalie’s withdrawal from the world. Their marriage suffers, and the mystery of whether they would be able to find each other again was as compelling to me as finding out what happened to Daniel. This was a well-written character study of how grief and tragedy affect people differently and how such a traumatic event can affect even the strongest marriage.
I think it is also worth mentioning that the town of Smithfield is a bit of a character of its own. It is an effective setting for this book, and it provided Sigel with the opportunity to have Joshua do a bit of his own detective work without that seeming unrealistic. Also, I liked how the author wrote about Nathalie and her love for her music. It made me wonder if he was a bit of a musician himself.
Finally, it goes without saying that a book like this makes you think about your own reactions if something like this happened to your own child. I never want to go through what this family did, and I don’t know if I would react more like Joshua or Nathalie. I hope I never find out.
The Disappearance was a well-written character study of parents dealing with the disappearance of a child. Although the mystery of the disappearance is a major part of the book, the book is more of an examination into a marriage and two good parents dealing with a terrible tragedy. I found the ending to be satisfying. However, if you are looking for a riveting “whodunit” type of mystery, I don’t think this book would satisfy you.
An Excerpt from the Book
“He thinks of Dan in that moment and as often happens, a soothing calm–the calm of cloistered monastery walls, of shady hideaways in meandering gardens–takes hold. It’s as if Dan has been gone on a long trip and the distance between them is teaching him to understand and cherish his son. In his brain he knows that, like any 14-year-old, Dan was a hormonal, secretive teenager. Surely Dan must have resented Joshua’s oversight, benevolent or not; when he got together with his buddies, surely he must have articulated the common disdain for cloddish parents and their hopeless ways. But in Joshua’s memory the specifics of family discord soften, and the Daniel who emerges is mature and self-aware.”
“Joshua does not wallow in these edited memories but merely accepts what they grant him, a brief respite from the agony of uncertainty. It is uncertainty that bears down on him like a rock from which he cannot extricate himself, an uncertainly far worse than whatever horrible thing transpired. What happened, happened, Joshua tells himself over and over; it’s in the past. Not knowing what happened contaminates the present as well. And yet, uncertainty also allows him to entertain the possibility of a miracle that will restore their son to them. He will never speak of such an eventuality, won’t even let his mind entertain it and yet, absent proof, it exists as an incalculably small possibility, as if he could sift every grain of sand on a wide beach and find the one that bears the singular ivory white hue he seeks.”
About the Author (From the Book Jacket)
Efrem Sigel is the author of the novel The Kermanshah Transfer, as well as five books of nonfiction and 19 short stories, a number of which have won prizes or earned Pushcart nominations.
One Final Thing!
I was lucky enough to get this book as part of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. The copy I read was an Advanced Uncorrected Galley. (Did I mention how thrilled I was by this! I’d never gotten anything like this before!) The book was just released on February 1 and is available on Amazon.