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Missing Mom    by Joyce Carol Oates order for
Missing Mom
by Joyce Carol Oates
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Having been a fan of Oates' crisp writing style for years now, I eagerly awaited Missing Mom. I will not say that I was disappointed, but I enjoyed her previous novel, The Falls, so much more. This book is about 31-year-old Nicole Nikki Eaton, a newspaper reporter for the Beacon. Nikki is dating a married (but separated) man and is considered the wild one in the family - her older sister, Clare, who is married with two children and lives in the suburbs, is considered more respectable. This is the opinion of their widowed mother, Gwen, and probably Clare's as well.

Nikki gets along fairly well with Gwen and Clare, but she feels different and she is different. She shows it by chopping off her hair into a spiky hairstyle and dying it a deep maroon shortly before the Mother's Day dinner party Gwen throws at her home. Nikki, sulking over the strange guests at the party (not family, more of a hodge-podge of local people), purposely delays calling Gwen afterwards. Subsequently, Gwen is murdered by an ex-convict (she had a tendency to take in strays, whether cats or ex-cons). What ensues (for the majority of this hefty novel) is the grief that the sisters share over Gwen's untimely death. Nikki, the narrator, feels her mother's loss strongly, even though she had difficulty relating to her over the years. Gwen's death essentially shines a new light on Nikki's feelings and her life - and, well, she finds herself missing mom. This leads her to delve into memories of Gwen, which serve to deepen her grief over her mother's untimely death.

This was not my favorite of Oates' books, simply because the plot just was not meaty enough for her talent. There are few surprises or twists and the story seems tame for Oates and her fans, although she still manages to expertly create intriguing characters, who held my interest when the plot waned (I love her bold and liberal use of exclamation points to show characters' exasperation, dismay and excitement.) Though long-term fans of Oates will appreciate Missing Mom, I would recommend that those new to her work read The Falls instead.

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