Funeral Music

Half Broken Things

The Night Following

Among the Missing
by Morag Joss
(Delacorte, $25, NV) ISBN 978-385-34274-2
The collapse of a bridge in Scotland precipitates the intersection of the lives of three people previously unknown to each other. Annabel, recently married but estranged from her husband over the unexpected news that she is pregnant, Silva, an illegal alien living in an abandoned trailer with her husband and young daughter, and Ron, recently released from prison trying desperately to find some sort of gainful employment as well as acceptance back into society.

When the bridge collapses and her husband and child do not return to their home, Silva fears that they were among the missing people who were trapped in their cars and plunged into a swiftly moving river. She can't really believe it is true since the family did not own a car, but the other alternative would be that her husband had taken their child and abandoned her. She patiently waits, hoping some other scenario took place. Annabel, with the collapse of the bridge hopes that her husband will assume that she is among the missing, drowned in her car so she will be free to deliver her child and raise it as a single mother.

Annabel stumbles onto the trailer as she is trying to find a haven for herself until her child is born and Silva befriends her. Ron enters the picture when he aids Silva in retuning to her home which has become isolated from vehicle traffic as a result of the bridge collapse. The trio, all anxious to stay below the radar of the authorities, form a loose sort of family until their own fears come to the forefront as more is learned about the bridge collapse and the cars which had been on the bridge at the time of the collapse are recovered.

Among the Missing is less a mystery and more a character study and an examination of the dynamics of human relationships. At first each of the three main protagonists has a need which the other two can, and do, provide. As their relationships evolve conflicts develop and the dynamics change drastically. The methods that the author has chosen to elucidate this process quickly engages the reader's attention without causing any diminishment of sympathy for any character.

Among her many talents Morag Joss is a master of description. Through her words it is easy to form a mental picture, not only of the physical presence of each of her main characters, but also of how their circumstances have molded their frame of mind. Initially Silva, Annabel, and Ron are so sensitive to the possible skeletons in each other's closets, that they avoid questions that might force anyone to lie. They force themselves to live in the present because it is obvious that each has a painful past that they wish to keep hidden.

This novel is unusual in that the reader is omniscient. He knows, at least in general, the circumstances of each character's back story. This fact adds a certain tension to the action as each character gradually discovers something about their housemates' past.

The author has chosen to write many of the chapters in the first person. Because she has given her audience enough background on each character there is little confusion as to who "I" is as each chapter commences. This perspective allows the reader knowledge of the thought processes of each individual which enhances the impact of the story.

Among the Missing offers a unique look into the human condition from multiple points of view. One cannot help but empathize with all three characters, yet still be critical of some of their failings. Despite being privy to thoughts of all three characters, Joss still manages to pen an ending that many will not anticipate.

--Andy Plonka

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