The Disappearance by Efrem Sigel's is a divergent story within a story. Joshua and Nathalie come home from a night out to discover their 14-year old son Daniel is not at home. Soon they realize he is missing and they are frantic with desperation, not knowing what to do. He has vanished without any clues. They must face the hours, days, weeks — and perhaps more — of tortuous tension while they wait for any positive word about him.
What happens to a marriage when something so gut wrenching occurs? How does a couple cope with such dismal despair? As the weeks go by Nathalie and Joshua cope differently, isolating and insulating their feelings. No longer able to support each other, they aren't even aware of one another as they are hidden behind a victim's veil. Sigel uses densely polished poetic lyrical verse. His sensitive style is beautiful, and through his artistry and details you are able to empathize with Nathalie and Joshua as they face an uncertain future. The Disappearance is a rhythmic roller-coaster of emotions.
I recently interviewed Efrem Sigel about his book The Disappearance.
Wisteria: The disappearance of a child is such a tough subject. Were you afraid it would scare readers away from the book?
Efrem: The book begins with the disappearance of 14-year old Daniel Sandler, but my hope was always that The Disappearance would be more than just another “child disappears, who did it?” mystery. The mystery is there, of course, but it’s also a family drama, the story of a marriage, a story about how ordinary people can either surmount, or be defeated by, extraordinary and tragic events. If it works, it’s because in the end it’s more a love story on multiple levels than a tragedy.
The way you portray the parents, Joshua and Nathalie, seems to make their emotions so palpable to readers. How did you do this?
I knew that I needed fully fleshed-out and believable characters to make the novel work. Joshua and Nathalie are such different people, one impulsive and action-oriented, the other cerebral and withdrawn, that it was inevitable they would react to this calamity in very different ways. Out of these differences, and the spiraling tension caused by the mystery, I hoped to develop a momentum that would drive the story while enhancing the reader’s understanding of and identification with the characters.
A book about such an emotionally charged experience leads to the natural question: has anything like this happened to you?
No. But as a parent I know the fears that engulf you when a child is not where he or she is supposed to be, and I tried hard to get inside the heads of parents actually living through such an ordeal. By the end, I felt as if I were living through it myself.
Yes and no. I knew what had happened to Daniel, though not why, but the ending that I wrote early on quickly got discarded, and it took quite a while to find the ending that felt right.
What made you pick such a tiny town as Smithfield as a setting for the book?
It’s a setting I know well, a bucolic small town in rural Massachusetts, the kind of place where nothing ever happens. The contrast between the idyllic setting and the terrible event is another source of tension in the story, as is the fact that the Sandlers are outsiders in this town.
The Disappearance is your second novel, but it comes 36 years after the first. Why the long wait?
In between novels I started and ran a couple of business newsletter companies, wrote magazine and newsletter articles and nonfiction books, but was always exploring ideas for new fiction. Ten years ago I was able to return to fiction in a serious way, first with short stories and then with the idea that turned into The Disappearance. I’m hard at work on a new novel, and will do my best to see that it won’t take another 36 years for number three.
More information about Efrem Sigel and The Disappearance is available at www.efremsigel.com
by Efrem Sigel
Permanent Press (February 1, 2009)