Joyce Carol Oates: Mother, Missing (review)

‘It was the fate of mothers, to remember. What nobody’s else would know or care about. That, when they are gone, goes with them.’ (p. 397)

Mothermissing_JoyceCarolOatesIf you follow this blog, you’ve probably heard me mention Joyce Carol Oates a couple of times or more. She is one of my favorite authors. I’m not only impressed with her abilities as a writer, her way of using language, punctuation, italics as emphasis and much more but also her productivity and her constant high writing standard. I’ve never read a bad book by her. She writes books that are not quite as good as her best ones (We were the Mulvaneys, Blonde) but they are still in a completely different league than a lot og book by other authors.
That said, this is not one of her best. Mother, Missing is the story of Nikki Eaton and her sister who tragically loose their mother and how they deal with this loss in very different ways.
Nikki and her sister Claire are both in their 30s, living their own lives. Claire lives with her husband and children in the same city as the sisters grew up in while Nikki has moved away and is living the independent (and selfish) life as a reporter. She is the ‘black sheep’, dating an older man, coloring her hair purple, wearing tight skimpy clothes.
After a Mother’s Day dinner at their mother’s home, a couple of days go by without the sisters being able to get in touch with their mother. Finally, Nikki drives back home to check on her and finds her killed in the garage.
What happens then is a mix between the sisters dealing with the aftermath of their mother’s sudden and unexpected death as well as flashbacks to times before.
The few pages of Nikki walking through the house looking for her mother, are masterfully written. The suspense builds and builds and builds. Even though you know Nikki will find her mother dead, you are just sitting on the edge of your seat, reading as fast as you can to find out what has happened. I find it so impressive when an author can grasp you like this even though you know what’s in store.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not quite as good. It is still a great book and I like the flawed character Nikki as the main narrator. She makes bad choices – and sometimes she even knows it herself. She’s struggling and she’s hurting – and she’s trying. I like how the novel shows how the death of a parent makes you question your life, your priorities, your values, just about everything. And also how parents often don’t seem like real people, real human beings, to their children. And sometimes, it’s only after they are dead and gone, you realize that they were so much more than just your parent and how they led a whole life before you yourself became a part of their life and history and created a new, shared, history.
It’s also very much a book about sibling relations. How one moment you wonder whether you have anything in common with your sibling(s) and if you will ever speak again when your parents have died – and the next moment you nudge each other and share a private joke and remember all the history you and your sibling(s) have together. And how when your parents die, your sibling(s) are the only ones who share your history. Both the sisters in this book make changes after their mother’s sudden death, some just for a while, some to stay.
Joyce Carol Oates nails these family relations so perfectly. If you have parents and/or siblings, you will have experienced some of these situations and emotions, the characters show in this novel.
But still, despite Oates’ wonderful eye for these important relationships and her great writing, this is not one of her best novels. It’s still a good book and I think it’s worth reading. However, if you are only going to read a few of Oates novels, this doesn’t have to be one of them.
I don’t want to end this review on a negative note because I really liked reading it but I hold it up against Oates’ own standard which is so very high and that’s the reason why it only receives three stars. I’ll let Oates’ end this review with her own words, a quote from the book. Maybe this will do the book more justice.

Last time you see someone and you don’t know it will be the last time. And all that you know now, if only you’d known then. But you didn’t know, and now it’s too late. And you tell yourself How could I have known, I could not have known. You tell yourself.’ (p. 3)

  • Title: Mother, Missing (aka Missing Mom
  • Author: Joyce Carol Oates
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate
  • Year: 2005
  • Pages: 434 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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4 thoughts on “Joyce Carol Oates: Mother, Missing (review)

    • Oh you should definitely read her. She’s an amazing author and has written a book for every taste out there. I read the other day that she herself has lost count of how much she has written…!

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