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THE MISSING
by C.L. Taylor
William Morrow Paperbacks, November 2017
496 pages
$15.95
ISBN: 006267353X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Fortyish Claire Wilkinson, her husband Mark, their nineteen-year-old son Jake, and his live-in girlfriend Kira suffer on a rollercoaster of grief and fear over a period of six or seven months after the sudden disappearance of the younger son, fifteen year old Billy. As the story opens, Claire, the narrator, plunges us into the turmoil of this now dysfunctional family after several harrowing months of self-accusation, blame of each other and all others, desperate searches, and constant sorrow and fear. There simply is no tangible trace of what could have happened to him.

The family is preparing to go to a second press conference set up to refresh the public's memory about Billy's disappearance, to beg for clues and any kind of information anyone at all may have to share, and to present a united family front to the world and to each other. But the family is anything but united. Clare and Mark leave the house without Jake who has been up all night drinking and is hopelessly incapable of being any help at all. When Claire presents her prepared appeal for help, Jake bursts into the room, ranting and angry, and a family fight ensues, effectively ending the press conference with all kinds of news and speculation that was never intended, not even by Jake.

To say that these family members behave badly, consistently and relentlessly badly, is certainly unfair. I have raised children and most who read this review have raised children and I suspect that most of them would stand with me on this: I have no real idea of what this kind of loss of one of my children would do to me. No idea of how I would behave or of how much control I could muster. I do know that I have no right to demand that others in such a situation meet some kind of behavior standard.

But that is not my point.

We steadily recognize that the Wilkinson family has in many ways primed itself for its collapse in the face of overwhelming anguish. As we get glimpses of their life "before," we see people who have always lived a soap opera sort of life, moving from one crisis or stimulant to another and turning to react to first this and then that. There is no mental, emotional, moral, or spiritual gameplan governing the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year direction of the family's growth and development into good and thoughtful persons. Each of them simply reacts to whatever is at hand with little or no concern for any other family member affected.

Billy has been acting out in a variety of ways, running pretty much wild, tagging various public and school (he was caught there without much consequence) with his "artwork." Read graffiti. He dreams of his graffiti being recognized, famous. He is fifteen. His parents have already long lost the ability to steer him.

Older brother Jake is in an intense and intimate relationship with a girl named Kira. She lives in an abusive home with an alcoholic mother (she claims) and the Wilkinsons take her at her word and move her into their home. That is, they move her into Jake's bedroom because they feel so sorry for her. They feed her, give her money, and provide transportation from time to time. No questions asked. No plans made. No thought given at all to what they are doing and what they are enabling.

So.

We have 496 pages of the anguish these people go through individually and together. Not one of them has much sense of personal responsibility or the ability to recognize the processes of cause and effect. No matter what happens, they react impulsively and separately. Their anguish is awful but it is also doubly depressing because there is no hope offered by author C. L. Taylor that there is any future for any of them.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, October 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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