Posted by: chartroose | July 30, 2008

We Disappear

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?




  1. I loved what you said about authors that make you cry. I also like that you called the author your new Scott Weiland. It is a pity that he can’t stay clean. I remember when Interstate Love Song was released. That was a great time in my life. I had a friend listen to it on a bus trip and he left country music behind forever. 🙂

  2. You know, I’ve never thought of myself as a groupie. Whenever I think of the word “groupie” I think of raving teenage girls ripping their shirts off at concerts, then passing out from excitement. (There’s something so wrong with that, I know, but I never seem be able to help myself.)

    But writers like rock stars and readers their groupies – I like that idea. There are a few writers that could make me pass out from excitement if I ever met them.

  3. This sounds like a good book, of a kind I haven’t read before (I usually avoid books that feature drug addicts, it disturbs me for some reason). I’m going to put it on my TBR.

  4. I have never seen The Way We Were but I felt that longing for people. I think I would be interested in this book I will have look into it.

  5. Literate–Jeez, I’m such a wuss. I was driving to work today, and “Vasoline” came on the radio. I got all teary-eyed like I always do, probably because I had just written this post and was thinking of both the fictional Scott and the singing Scott last night. What a wasted life! What a waste of talent! What makes some people become so addicted that they desire to disappear? I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. “Interstate Love Song” is my favorite STP song. It was a great time in my life too.

    J. S.–LOL!!! So you were one of THOSE girls, hmmm? My oldest and dearest friend was very proud of her breasts in her younger days, and would rip off her shirt at practically every concert she went to. Wouldn’t it be funny to rush up to someone like, say, Adam Davies or Markus Zusak and rip off your shirt and go into paroxysms of ecstasy as they autographed your breasts? You could say something like, “You can be my frog king any time you want to, Adam,” or “Oooh, Markus, I’lll be YOUR book thief for all eternity!” I think we should start doing this.

    Jeane–Good, I think you’ll appreciate it. You’ll have to tell me what you think.

    Confuzzled–“The Way We Were” is really smarmy, but I love it because Robert Redford was so pretty at that time. I just wanted to watch him–forget Barbra Striesand! I’m glad you’re thinking of reading the novel. I hope you like it.

  6. I was always insulted when I was referred to as a groupie, but in this case I think you’re right on. Possibly because I have far more respect for authors than for rock stars. 🙂


  7. Interstate Love Song has been running through my mind ever since reading this post. You’ve passed the virus on. 🙂 I ended up having to load the video on YouTube and listen to it on and off. I think there is something about highly creative people and addictions. It’s almost like life has to balance out the huge portion of brilliance by a voracious flaw.

  8. Lezlie, I absolutely agree with you. I have far more respect for authors because writing novels is really difficult. I’ve tried to write a novel at least 10 times and ended up hating every minute of it. I don’t know how they do it, and I envy their creativity.

    Literate, I absolutely agree with you too! Some of the most creative people can’t seem to deal with life very easily, so they turn to drugs and/or alcohol for solace. Maybe their brains are wired differently or maybe they perceive too much pain. Whatever it is, I’m glad I don’t have it, even though I’d kind of like to have it too. Does that make sense?
    Drats, now I’m going to have to go watch the “Interstate Love Song” video too! It’s an amazing song.

  9. […] characters in this superb novel are filled with such acute longing” – quote from review of We Disappear by Scott […]

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