It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: one minute your child is there – the next minute, he’s gone. In The Disappearance, Joshua and Nathalie Sandler’s son, Daniel, disappears and their lives change completely.
The Sandlers are a very happy family. Joshua runs a furniture sales business; Nathalie is a professional cellist. Daniel is 14 years old, generally a pretty good kid. They have a place near the city and a second home in the country, in the picturesque town of Smithfield.
On a typical summer afternoon, Joshua and Nathalie make a run into town for supplies; Daniel stays at home. When they come back, the house is empty. Daniel is gone.
If I had to imagine what two parents go through in a situation like this, I think it would come out a lot like this book. Joshua and Nathalie handle their grief and uncertainty in different ways. Joshua requires constant activity – he is always on the move, at work, walking the woods, talking to neighbors, looking for clues. At one point, he takes up a post in the center of the road near his home, stopping passing motorists to ask if they were in the area on the day Dan disappeared, asking them if they saw anything strange. Nathalie withdraws into herself. She cannot bear to touch her cello. She stops taking care of herself, stops talking to people, stops living. They live in limbo for months, but what is the acceptable waiting period before you begin your life again? What is the recommended period of mourning? How do you decide when to stop looking, when to give up hope?
As Joshua questions Dan’s friends, he begins to get to know Dan as an entirely new creature, someone he never really knew.
“To his shock, he realizes that all these observations apply to Dan. He must have had, did have a secret life – a communal secret life, involving a whole other cast of characters, a performance place, a range of behaviors that Joshua and Nathalie knew nothing about.”
Joshua also fears that he may be somehow responsible for what has happened to Dan – he’s involved in a big real estate deal that has raised the hackles of some of the long-time residents. There have been threats, some vandalism, even some violence – could Dan’s disappearance be linked to it?
Nathalie and Joshua go through a whole range of emotions over the course of these pages. You feel Joshua’s frustration with the investigation of his small-town police department. You understand why Nathalie feels like picking up the cello would be a betrayal. You are like these parents – wanting to turn the page, find some closure, but afraid of the news that awaits you. A very effective piece of work.