Acclaimed children’s book author Cornelia Maude Spelman’s memoir of her family springs from a meeting and subsequent friendship with the late, legendary New Yorker editor William MaxwellIn the 1920s, he and her parents had been friends as undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When Spelman hints at what she thinks of as the failure of her parents’ lives, he counters that “in a good novel one doesn’t look for a success story, but for a story that moves one with its human drama and richness of experience.”
At their final meeting, Maxwell encourages her to tell her mother’s story. Missing is Spelman’s response to Maxwell’s wisdom. With the pacing of the mystery novels her mother loved, and using everything from letters and interviews to the family’s quotidian paper trail—medical records, telegrams, and other oft-overlooked clues to a family’s history—Spelman reconstructs her mother’s life and untimely death. Along the way, she unravels mysteries of her family, including the fate of her long lost older brother.
Spelman skillfully draws the reader into the elation and sorrow that accompany the discovery of a family’s past. A profoundly loving yet honest elegy, Missing is, like the woman it memorializes, complex and beautiful.