The co-op bookstore for avid readers

'The Missing' by Ben Tanzer | An Excerpt

From the Emmy-award-winning author of Upstate and Orphans, The Missing is a deeply psychological portrait of a marriage that is both full of pathos and frighteningly real.
Ben Tanzer •
Mar 20th, 2024

Imagine this. It's every parent's nightmare: a child goes missing. As you wait for the police to find clues to her disappearance, the ground beneath you is slipping away. Your marriage, already frayed at the edges, is now ripping at the seams. Ben Tanzer's new novel, The Missing, captures this moment of crisis with frightening realism in a deeply psychological portrait of a marriage.

"Emmy award-winning author Ben Tanzer has created a deeply psychological portrait of a marriage on the brink, infusing raw emotion and the bitter numbness of loss into every breakage." — Michael Welch in Chicago Review of Books, which selected The Missing as a must-read for March

"There’s something in this book for everyone, whether they like it or not. And it is a book that only as skilled and deeply empathic a writer as Ben Tanzer could ever craft." — Alice Kaltman in Hypertext Magazine

Get the book at 20% off through March with code MISSING at checkout.

This excerpt, taken from the perspective of the father character, is from The Missing by Ben Tanzer. Printed with permission of the author.

I want to text Christa and I’m trying to decide what I want to say. I’ve called her dozens of times since she left, and she hasn’t answered. Not that she answered her phone when she was still here.

I don’t always leave a voicemail. I don’t want the mailbox to fill up before we connect.

There haven’t been any pings on her phone and Christa’s too smart to use it. Or even turn it on. That doesn’t mean she isn’t carrying it around with her or won’t turn it back on at some point. And when she does, we need to be there. Hannah and I. Christa needs to know we care. Hannah and I haven’t discussed this, but Hannah knows to text her as well.

If Hannah doesn’t know this, she’ll be unhappy I assume she does, and I didn’t say something to her. I don’t have time for such a discussion. Fathers must act, and Hannah will appreciate that.

In the movies, a child goes missing and what transpires next is some kind of concerted effort to figure out where the child was last seen. Everyone involved in the search sweeps out across the area. People hold hands in fields, focused on finding the body or evidence—a scrap of clothes, identification, a phone. Others pray. There are press conferences fraught with the tension of wondering whether the child is nearby or worse, the abductor, as he or she trolls the safe space created to engage in the search—primal and full of fop sweat and stale coffee. The police work in concert with the state police and the FBI, private detectives, and volunteers. AMBER Alerts take flight to all known corners of the world. Somehow there’s nothing, and then a grizzled veteran investigator arrives unannounced, maybe even unexpected. They’re played by Morgan Freeman or Forrest Whitaker, Robert Duvall, Bill Camp or Elizabeth Marvel. Angela Bassett would be welcome. The investigator is made-up of sinew and cheekbones, motherly and fierce, and having survived Ike Turner, capable of anything. Yet somehow, and against all reasonable odds, reality is suspended, because when absolutely nothing makes sense, it’s the father who saves the day through sheer will and exceptional attention to detail. Fathers find clues and track people down. While we’re expected to ignore the racist or misogynistic undertones of this narrative, somewhere along the way it’s the father who identifies the sign or call, the trace of life afloat on the winds of fate. The case is soon cracked. Hugs abound.

We find this to be an acceptable storyline, we even expect it, and so what does that say about me?

I drive around town, up and down the streets where we’ve always lived, worked, and breathed. The same dilapidated houses at the bottom of the hills near our home giving way to sprawling homes along the river that bisects the city. The barely energized local businesses struggling to survive downtown—their awnings and signs cracked and crumbling. The gray-streaked skies and dead gray lawns, the fall air a mix of leaves and fame. I go throughout the day, before and after work, during my lunch break, not bothering to eat or sleep, as the phone doesn’t ring with information about where Christa has been spotted. She isn’t anywhere and I can’t make her appear despite my desire to do so, willing her presence from the nothing I see outside my window.

I also hang flyers around town.

On telephone poles and abandoned buildings.

It starts with, “Have you seen this girl?”

It includes a photo of Christa I love. She’s sitting at a table in River Diner. It’s one of our places. She’s smiling. The sun is coming through the window. Her hair glows. She looks carefree and beautiful. It also says, “She was last seen with this man,” and includes a photo I took from Josh’s Facebook page. I wrote “man” so it would feel more urgent. I encourage people to call the police with tips, but also include my cell number for those who prefer not to call the authorities.

No one has called yet.

I don’t know how Hannah feels about the flyers.

I do know Hannah wants both of us to mostly accept that Christa is fine. Josh will make sure it’s so. I also know Hannah needs to believe Christa is okay and I’m almost willing to accept this for Hannah and her well-being. But I just can’t accept it. It would be irresponsible. I’m going to do what I can to find her.

None of which addresses the main thing I just don’t know and can’t understand—why Christa doesn’t want to be found, seen, or heard?

Like what you've read? Check out The Missing by Ben Tanzer.

What to read next:
What to read next: