The best books using disappearance in innovative ways

Why am I passionate about this?

Since my stepfather disappeared in 1982, disappearance has been my obsession. In writing Disequilibria, I read everything I could on missing persons. By now, I might be the chief authority on Missingness! – that is, on disappearance as a theoretical construct. I’m especially interested in how, across different sensibilities (in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, but also law, social science, journalism, philosophy, history, and media studies), we can compose a shared language and create shared understanding. My larger goal is to discover creative and redemptive ways of responding to loss, grief, and trauma; to find how disappearance in all its forms creates a framework for understanding what it means to be human.

I wrote...

Disequilibria: Meditations on Missingness

By Robert Lunday,

Book cover of Disequilibria: Meditations on Missingness

What is my book about?

Disequilibria: Meditations on Missingness is a hybrid memoir that recounts the 1982 disappearance of James Edward Lewis, a pilot and Vietnam veteran, by connecting that single missing-persons case to the broad field of missingness in our culture – in other true-life disappearances as well as in fiction, poetry, and film. Disequilibria addresses the inherent transience in modern life, particularly by considering the military-dependent experience; and the corrosive, transformative effects of war on the individual, the family, and the community, long after the last soldiers have returned home.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between

Robert Lunday Why did I love this book?

In 1990 Hisham Matar’s father, Jaballah Matar, was abducted, imprisoned, and at some point most likely murdered by the Ghaddafi regime. This traumatic experience has shaped Matar’s four published works to date, though in varied ways that allow us to see, in different modes, the redemptive power of imagination.

In his memoir The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land In Between, Matar examines the geopolitical realities of disappearance, but also its familial, private, and symbolic dimensions – masterfully weaving history, journalism, scholarship, family narrative, and lyric evocation of the clear, beautiful, and sometimes-brutal Mediterranean land- and seascape.

By Hisham Matar,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Return as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


The Return is at once a universal and an intensely personal tale. It is an exquisite meditation on how history and politics can bear down on an individual life. And yet Hisham Matar's memoir isn't just about the burden of the past, but the consolation of love, literature and art. It is the story of what…

Book cover of Claire of the Sea Light

Robert Lunday Why did I love this book?

Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat’s linked short-story collections brilliantly balance a focus on detail, gesture, and situation with a cumulative vision of place and fateful circumstance.

In Claire of the Sea Light, the disappearance of a young girl frames a sequence of tales about several members of the small seaside community where the girl lives with her father.

After Claire’s sudden disappearance in the opening narrative, we follow the adults’ betrayals, sacrifices, and missteps to the final story, when the missing girl’s own perceptions provide a moral and imaginative frame for the family and community she must now choose to rejoin or escape permanently.

By Edwidge Danticat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Claire of the Sea Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of Brother, I’m Dying and The Dew Breaker: a “fiercely beautiful” novel (Los Angeles Times) that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing.

Just as her father makes the wrenching decision to send her away for a chance at a better life, Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—suddenly disappears. As the people of the Haitian seaside community of Ville Rose search for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed. In this stunning novel about…

Book cover of Doe

Robert Lunday Why did I love this book?

Aimee Baker’s Doe is a diptych: poems in the first section focus on missing women, while those in the second section reimagine the lives of unidentified women.

Baker creates recurrent, multiple patterns of imagery that celebrate the beauty and dignity of each woman – in argument, essentially, with the ways true crime sometimes exploits and objectifies victims’ lives. At the same time, Doe is about North America as a captivating space of the imagination: the poet creates a geography by turns intimate and vast, familiar and strange, beautiful and terrible.

The finely-crafted textures of the poems in Doe, as well as the apparent dedication to investigation and research in the work overall, make for a rare combination.

By Aimee Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Doe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2018 Eugene Paul Nassar Poetry Prize

Doe began as author Aimée Baker's attempt to understand and process the news coverage of a single unidentified woman whose body was thrown from a car leaving Phoenix, Arizona. It soon grew into a seven-year-long project with the goal to document, mourn, and witness the stories of missing and unidentified women in the United States.

Book cover of Speaking of Summer

Robert Lunday Why did I love this book?

Kalisha Buckhanon’s Speaking of Summer develops a major trope of recent disappearance-fiction by women: a search, sometimes a quest, involving two women who are close friends, lovers, or sisters.

But Buckhanon’s novel also experiments with an unreliable narrator, timely social critique, and some Dostoevskian madness. It’s also a novel of Manhattan: as in so many other disappearance-writings, geography (urban geography in this case) is a key element in the narrative as well as in the symbolic and thematic weave of the work.

By the end, the cumulative aspects of the protagonist’s life – her work, her art, her loves, her friendships, her sense of self – compose a memorable celebration of life.

By Kalisha Buckhanon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Speaking of Summer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A “powerful song about what it means to survive as a woman in America” (Jesmyn Ward), this “fiercely astute” novel follows a sister determined to uncover the truth about her twin’s disappearance (Tayari Jones).

On a cold December evening, Autumn Spencer’s twin sister, Summer, walks to the roof of their shared Harlem brownstone and is never seen again. The door to the roof is locked, and the snow holds only one set of footprints. Faced with authorities indifferent to another missing Black woman, Autumn must pursue the search for her sister all on her own.

With her friends and neighbors,…

Book cover of The Disappeared: Stories

Robert Lunday Why did I love this book?

Each of Andrew Porter’s two story collections and one novel develop missing persons as a theme. His latest collection, The Disappeared, also continues the author’s tendency to use place in ways that both locate and isolate his characters.

We find ourselves mainly in San Antonio, and sometimes Austin, Texas in The Disappeared, but the protagonists are also linked by a recurrent sense of hesitancy, missed opportunity, and fecklessness. Each story is about being middle-aged, but by the end, Porter has masterfully balanced his depictions of urban-male domesticity with a deeper, more existential sense of being human.

It is Porter’s evocation of missingness – sometimes foregrounded, sometimes slight – that creates the beautifully elegiac sensibility the reader is left with in finishing The Disappeared.

By Andrew Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Disappeared as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of stories that trace the threads of loss and displacement running through all our lives, by the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Theory of Light and Matter

“What a beautiful book about the profound mystery of ordinary life.” —Alix Ohlin, author of We Want What We Want

A husband and wife hear a mysterious bump in the night. A father mourns the closeness he has lost with his son. A friendship with a married couple turns into a dangerous codependency. With gorgeous sensitivity, assurance, and a propulsive sense of menace, these stories center on disappearances both literal and…

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Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

Book cover of Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

Ralph Hickok Author Of Vagabond Halfback: The Saga of Johnny Blood McNally

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Green Bay and my dad was the official scorer for the Packers, so I was immersed in pro football history even as a child. During my careers as a newspaper feature writer and editor and as an advertising copywriter, I also became a sports historian. My magnum opus was “The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History,” 650,000 words. But my favorite by far is my biography of Johnny Blood. I was 12 or 13 when I decided I wanted to write it, 33 when I began working on it, 38 when I finished it, and 78 when it was finally published.

Ralph's book list on the history of pro football

What is my book about?

From Kirkus Reviews: "This debut short-story collection paints the wistful life of a newspaper journalist as seen through his sexual and romantic encounters...

Throughout, Hickok writes in an assured style, pulling readers along. The narrow sexual focus results in a distorted picture, yet other aspects of Art's life emerge at the edges—his intelligence, his career as a journalist, and even the sincerity with which he gives in to his male urges and construes sex as love... 

Subdued yet alluring; a pensive reflection on the male psyche."

Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

What is this book about?

A man arrives in a new city, hoping to start a new life, but he’s still haunted by memories of past loves…
A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have a brief romantic encounter when their families are vacationing in neighboring lakeside cottages…
Two teenagers enjoy sexual experimentation when she babysits for her little brother while her parents are out drinking…
A high school boy has a crush on an older woman who identifies with Molly Bloom…
A college freshman falls in love with a high school freshman and is amazed at the depths of her passion…
A guy wins…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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