Scott Heim, 2008, 310 p.
There is a scene in The Way We Were when Katie and Hubbell are about to break up and Katie recites a litany of wishes. She ends her little semi-soliloquy with something like, “…I wish it would rain, oh, I want…I want…I want us to love each other.” She says it with such longing in her eyes and in her voice that even though the rain doesn’t have anything to do with the dissolution of her marriage, it makes perfect sense. It’s out of context and in context at the same time, and it’s these moments in film and novels that make them stand out and become greater than the sum of their parts. This is certainly true of We Disappear.
The characters in this superb novel are filled with such acute longing that they find it difficult to deal with life as it is. Scott, the novel’s narrator, returns to his small-town Kansas home to care for his dying mother, Donna, who has been obsessed with news stories of missing children for most of her adulthood. Donna claims that she was abducted when she was a child, and, for some insane reason, she envisions the time she spent closeted away by her kidnappers as the best time of her life. Donna enlists Scott to help her in her quest to find out more about her abductors, and Scott, along with Donna’s alcoholic friend, Dolores, does some detective work. This is enough about the plot. I think I’ve mentioned before that if the writing is strong enough, plot just doesn’t matter to me all that much. We Disappear is so multifaceted that it could be about a day in the life of a tree sloth, and I’d still be enthralled by the writing.
Scott is the first meth addict I’ve ever come across in a novel. Since drug addiction is such a powerful force, it could easily have been allowed to become the major focus of the story, but Mr. Heim is a sophisticated writer, so he’s able to treat the subject matter-of-factly. When Scott needs to get high, he does. When he runs out of meth, he buys more. Scott is intelligent enough to realize his addiction is bad and needs to be addressed, but not right now. Right now, his mother must be catered to. Due to her illness, she’s disappearing faster than he is. He has to reconnect with her before she disappears forever.
Another aspect of this novel that I appreciated was the sensitive way in which Mr. Heim handled Donna’s final days in the hospital. Dying is a tricky subject to write about, and I’ve read some deathbed scenes that are way too precious or maudlin to be believable. Not so in We Disappear. Donna’s death was written exactly the way death should be written, and it moved me quite deeply. I went through a similar experience when my Mom died, so much so that I read this part of the novel all sniffly and teary-eyed. If an author makes me cry, then I’m his forever!
Actually wanting to disappear, like Scott is doing with his addiction, provided me with a fascinating new way of looking at the world. There are many people who are trying desperately to disappear every day of their lives. Isn’t that what addiction is; a gradual disappearance until you become less than a person–like a ghost of yourself? Very interesting, indeed!
I sent an e-mail to Mr. Heim asking if We Disappear is autobiographical, since his name and the main character’s name are the same. He graciously replied, saying that the dying parts were pretty factual, and while he had abused drugs in the past, he was not a user during his mother’s illness. The back story and mystery solving parts are fictional. I think it was pretty awesome that he replied and was so up-front about everything. I love authors! I believe it was either T Y or Care who once said that writers are like rock stars, and book lovers such as ourselves are their groupies. I agree. Scott Heim is my new Scott Weiland, sans the heroin addiction.
Here is a clip of Scott Heim promoting We Disappear. Isn’t his retro shirt cool?