This YA novel is a coming of age story of sorts, and it does involve a dead pianist... But obviously it isn't she who comes of age (she's dead.) And. Okay. I lied about the Tony Soprano part - he isn't really in the story, but the guy who introduces the protagonist to the dead pianist looks just like him, so my title remains relevant ;p
All joking aside, Me, the Missing, and the Dead is such a great read I felt like writing about it. It's written (as so many female author's greatest works are) from the point of view of an adolescent male, in this case the somewhat troubled, self-cognizantly "strange" Luke Swain. Luke has a frazzled mother disenchanted with the life that she's somehow ended up living, a wild child of an older sister, a precocious younger brother, and an inexplicable infatuation with the urn that was abandoned in a taxi cab belonging to the cab company Luke just happens to wander into looking for a ride. Once Luke finds out that the ashes inside belong to a woman who coincedentally died right around the time that his father abandoned Luke and their family, the trajectory of Luke's character arch for the duration of the novel is set. He's going to "rescue" those ashes from the smoky confines of the cab company's dreary little office. He's going to find out whatever he can about Ms. Violent Park, of whom those ashes are the remains. He's going to accidentally find out more about himself and his family than he ever knew (or cared to know) had yet to be found.
I don't usually write much about a book that I like, for a variety of reasons: One) Who am I to tell you something about some book you may or may not want to read? :p Two) I might inadvertently end up spoiling you. But I've decided that I ought to start writing this sort of commentary, if for no other excuse than to brush off my non-fiction-writing mitts and I've decided that I can be careful about it and recommend a book or two without giving away all of their goodies.
And there are a lot of goodies in this book. The story of Luke's parents, Nicky and Peter Swain, that we only get brief glimpses of through what Luke finds out by secretly reading his mother's diary or talking with his "uncle" Bob (a recovering alcoholic in love with Nicky); the realistic portrayal of an adolescent struggling with all of the emotional baggage that a parent dumps on his or her child when he or she takes off; Pansy and Norman, Luke's paternal grandparents, who both indulge Luke's "fanatic" attempts to keep his father "alive" and contribute to Luke's decision to begin letting go.
There's a mystery in this story, and I wasn't expecting that - just as I wasn't expecting to get as caught up and invested in the unravelling of it as I did. Shortly into the book I realized that I would not be setting it down until I'd found out how Violet had "followed" Luke to the dentist's :p Or whether or not Norman does know more than he remembers knowing... Or if Luke is the new Uri Geller or just a really weird kid who (wrongly) idolizes his father.
Stepping outside the story, ...and the Dead is entertaining for a look at Valentine's style alone. I think her characterizations are solid and quirky and dynamic. She nails the adolescent tone, and I like her syntax.
Yes, I have this weird thing about syntax. I might not have enjoyed the Harry Potter books so much if it hadn't been for this single sentence: He hummed "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" as he worked and jumped at small noises.. It's a totally geek thing to consider a turn on but I accept that about myself.
Some excerpts from the book as further impetus to read this book:
The City on a Sunday. Dad used to take me. There's no one there. You can walk around and pretend you're in one of those science fiction stories, like The Day of the Triffids or 48 Hours Later. All of the modern buildings reek of money and bad taste; and you can still feel the frantic stuff that goes on all week long, almost like the ghost of it is there on a Sunday, like the place is just exhausted with the pace of it all. And there are these really, really old bits, too, all mixed in. You can be standinga t some super modern glass box with your back to the oldest pub in London, and round the corner there's a really narrow ittle lane called Wardrobe Street, where they really did used to make wardrobes in about 17-something. It's like time travel, street to street, and that's a brilliant thing.
I kept looking at her and I said, "Dad could be anywhere, we don't know; but Violet is trapped on a shelf in a minicab office, and she needs our help.
It felt like one of those things people say in films, and it was coming out of my mouth.
"Where's Violet? What in hell are you talking about, Peter?" Norman said, and he made me jump because I'd forgotten he was there.
"I thought you were asleep," I said.
Pansy winked at me and whispered, "Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference." And then she yelled, "Nothing, Norman! Go back to sleep. It was the TV," which was a bare-faced lie because the TV wasn't even on. Then we were back to the film script and she said, "Is there a ransom?"
It wasn't quite what I was expecting. "What?"
"If someone's holding an old lady hostage in a cab office, they must be doing it for a reason."
"She's dead, Gran," I said, and I counted to ten for it to sink in.
"They've got a dead lady on a shelf? That's disgusting!" Pansy was overexcited. I could see the little explosions happening behind her eyes. "How did you meet her if she was dead, Lucas?"
When a family falls apart, it puts itself back together around the thing that's missing. When Dad went, the thing that bound us was the lack of Dad, the missing him and thinking about him and looking for his face in crowds.
In a weird way, the hole he left was the glue.
It was what made us close, what made us different and in it together, I suppose.
People had to get over it in shifts. We couldn't all do it together, because if we did things might have come unstuck.
Somebody had to be the last person to give up.
It could have been any of us.
But it was me.