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The Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenReview - The Sweet Relief of Missing Children
A Novel
by Sarah Braunstein
Dreamscape Media, 2011
Review by Christian Perring
Sep 27th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 39)

Braunstein's debut novel is takes many risks and tries one's patience.  The risks are both in the subject matter and the style.  She delves into the difficult area of children's involvement in the adult world; their vulnerability at the hands of adults, their striving for independence, their curiosity about sex.  The style is to tell the stories of a number of loosely interconnected characters; the towns of Beetle and Copper Junction join them.  While the writing is beautifully crafted, Braunstein makes little effort to help the reader keep the storylines distinct.  She often starts a new section describing what a character is doing without letting the reader know who she is talking about for several sentences.  To make matters worse, the story skips back and forth in time over different generations without giving the reader much warning.  It's not surprising that many readers on book review sites complain that the novel is confusing (see the feedback at Goodreads, for example).  One feels an urge to take notes or map out the different characters to sort out what is going on and how the characters are related to each other; sometimes it feels like the book is more like a collection of short stories or vignettes rather than one story.  This sense of unease never goes away; there is no great revelation of an underlying connection by the end of the novel.  Indeed, while the initial mystery of a missing child is resolved at the end, that's nearly only the resolution we get.  So readers who find the first hour of this 11-hour audiobook hard going should not expect much to change.  This applies also to the shocking scenes: early on, a boy watches his mother in bed with two men, one of whom is underneath the bedclothes giving his mother oral sex.  He watches his mother in fascination, and then realizes there is someone behind him, watching him watch his mother.  These sort of taboo-breaking moments are scattered throughout the story, and readers who find them inappropriate will have a difficult time with it. 

Despite these features, I found the book compelling and brave.  It has a consistently dark tone, even with minimal commentary from the narrator.  The tone comes from the content and the tone of the descriptions of the characters.  They are fallible unhappy people who can't quite cope with the world, and who are ready to make bad choices in a bid for momentary happiness or to escape their current circumstances.  Sometimes the flatness of the description of their inner turmoil brought to mind the late fiction of Samuel Becket -- especially in the performance of the unabridged audiobook by Xe Sands, who is consistently measured and distanced in her reading of the narrator, although her reading of the dialog is far more energetic.  The Sweet Relief of Missing Children stands out from the crowd of new fiction as an unusual work; more serious than most, focusing on parts of life that don't get so much attention from other writers. 

 

Link: Audiobook website

 

© 2011 Christian Perring        

 

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York

 


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