'The Missing' By Tim Gautreaux
Reviewed By Chuck Leddy
Tim Gautreaux's absorbing novel is a reflection on how loss can haunt and possibly destroy us. The novel's main character, Sam Simoneaux, was a baby in the backwoods of Louisiana when a group of outlaws killed his entire family. Sam survived because he was hidden away. Gautreaux's narrative explores what this loss has done to Sam's soul: Can the adult Sam accept what happened or will he seek revenge?
The author paints the novel's various settings with great skill, as he follows Sam from the battlefields of World War I, to 1920s New Orleans, to a riverboat navigating the Mississippi River. Throughout, Sam is followed by loss. Landing in France with the US Army on the last day of World War I, Sam imagines the wartime carnage: "He looked out and saw half a million soldiers going at each other in a freezing rain, their bodies shredded by artillery, their faces torn off, their knees disintegrated into snowy red pulp, their lungs boiled out by poison gas."
Sam returns to his hometown, New Orleans, and works as a department store floorwalker. One day, a girl goes missing in the store, and Sam, searching for her, gets knocked unconscious by one of her kidnappers. The frantic parents, as well as the store's owner, blame Sam for not doing enough to find the child. After being fired, Sam is awash in guilt.