The Missing Place
My dad and his older brother were born in North Dakota, so the Dakotas have always held a special place in my family history. But I think it's safe to say that for many Americans, the Dakotas have been easily forgotten or ignored. At least until lately, when the recent oil and gas boom in the northern plains has catapulted the Dakotas back into the headlines --- and drastically propelled their economy, too.
This rapidly changing, Wild West atmosphere is the setting for Sophie Littlefield's new novel, THE MISSING PLACE. In it, two women are brought together under unimaginably stressful circumstances and forced into an unlikely --- and, at times, uncomfortable --- partnership.
"THE MISSING PLACE is an effective portrayal of how desperate circumstances and bizarre surroundings can prompt people to find courage and take chances they never would have imagined otherwise."
Having raised her only son in suburban Boston alongside kids bound for Harvard and other Ivy League schools, Colleen never would have predicted that Paul would drop out of college in favor of working on an oil rig in the Dakotas. But that's exactly what happens, and although Colleen is puzzled by Paul's choice, she accepts it…until his infrequent phone calls and texts stop altogether, and it appears that he may have disappeared. Ever the protective mother, Colleen knows she can't just sit back and wait for the investigation to unfold (if it ever does). Instead, she hops on a plane --- in January, no less --- and heads to the oil fields of North Dakota in search of her son.
When she gets there, though, she discovers a nearly alien world, one in which men outnumber women 10 to 1, and the rapid oil and gas boom means that hotel rooms and apartments can't be had at any price. That's how she winds up sharing a ramshackle motor home with Shay, another mom in town on a quest --- to find her son Taylor, who's also missing. Colleen and Shay have virtually nothing in common besides their shared desire to find their sons and figure out what happened to them. But they are stymied at every turn --- by the oil company, the local police department, and their own hesitance to trust one another.
In chapters told from both women's points of view, THE MISSING PLACE effectively illustrates each of their strengths and vulnerabilities as it reveals the secrets they’re hiding. The actual mystery plot is perhaps unnecessarily complicated; most readers' real interest will lie in the interactions between the two main characters, not in the numerous red herrings and plot twists that Littlefield lays down. Almost as compelling as the complex relationship between Shay and Colleen is the portrait Littlefield paints of this place in transition, where every man is out for himself, trying desperately to grab a piece of the pie before it disappears or they get burned.
THE MISSING PLACE is an effective portrayal of how desperate circumstances and bizarre surroundings can prompt people to find courage and take chances they never would have imagined otherwise.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 17, 2014