The Local News, by Miriam Gershow. Published 2009 by Spiegel & Grau. Fiction.
Missing children are not an uncommon subject in novels these days; as events around the world and in the economy seem to spiral out of control, it seems to get easier to deflect our anxieties onto the homefront, onto the family and onto matters close at hand. And what does more to tap into our primal fears than a missing child? The Local News is a novel dealing with just such anxieties in the middle class, middle American Pasternak family. Lydia Pasternak, a bookish highschooler, and her parents are dealing with the disappearance of her popular older brother Danny, a jock and prankster whose breezy self-confidence masked his own anxieties.
Lydia is a very likeable young woman who narrates the story in a casual first-person style; she relates her day to day life, her friendships and her relationship with her parents, who are lost in their own morass of grief. Lydia finds herself surprised by her changing position in the school; before, before Danny disappeared, she was his mousy understudy, teased by his friends and almost invisible at home. Now, his friends befriend her and she finds herself becoming closer to people like Lola Pepper, a cheery flag squader who had been one of Danny's hangers-on, and Kirk Donovan, a fellow athlete. She does things she never did before- parties, stays out late, and has a falling-out with her friend David Nelson, a sweet boy with a crush on her.
The Local News also follows the Pasternak family's search for Danny and its heartbreaking conclusion, as well as the attendant accoutrements of a disappearance- the posters, the yellow ribbons, the searches, the loonies, the hope. Frustrated by police indifference following the intial period after Danny's disappearance, the Pasternaks hire a private detective and Lydia becomes infatuated with him, an older man name Denis who allows Lydia to play a role in the search.
Ultimately it's a hopeful book. Author Miriam Gershow shows a nice girl going through something unbearable, and shows her surviving- growing and changing into adulthood, sloughing off different selves as highschoolers do, until she's left with her essential self- smart, strong and insightful. I found the novel low-key but never boring, and I'm glad that Gershow stuck with Lydia throughout and didn't try to tell the story from other perspectives, as Stewart O'Nan did in his somewhat denser and (for me) less entertaining novel on essentially the same topic, Songs for the Missing. Telling a story from multiple perspectives also seems to be trendy these days and sometimes a book loses focus when the author tries to do too much. Not so with The Local News. A satisfying, beautifully written novel about adolescence and its many tragedies, it's sweet and tender and a very worthwhile read.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.