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Eugene Weekly : Books : 3.12.2009

 

After the Headlines

A graceful debut fom a Eugene author

by Molly Templeton

On the surface, you might mistake  Miriam Gershow’s first novel for something familiar; a high school athlete’s disappearance could make for a plot from any number of overly popular network dramas. But The Local News steers clear of lost-child clichés and sensationalism, opting to focus on a person who would, in another version of this story, be a minor player: the boy’s sister. Lydia is a quiet, skinny thing shoved into the view of her peers by the strange fame that sweeps into her life when Danny disappears. 

The Local News is told as a memory, the experiences of teenage Lydia filtered through the distance of her adult self, who only makes an appearance at the book’s close. But both the younger and the older Lydia are uncommonly astute observers. As Lydia falls into a new social life, adopted by her brother’s old friends, she remains apart, noting her reactions to their world, to the odd friendliness of an old enemy or the taste of rum in a half-empty bottle of Pepsi. She tussles with an attraction to the detective working on her brother’s case, but her efforts to get his attention — mostly by throwing herself into the details, trying to help — aren’t half as heartbreaking as the way the attraction instantly fades. When news finally comes, that part of the past becomes embarrassing, something to leave behind, something that belonged to a different version of herself. 

The Local News takes a horrible incident and pares it down to one girl’s experience, never backing away from the inward focus of the left-behind child, the grief of the parents, the uncertainty of high school’s social layers. For Lydia, everything is about Danny, and nothing is about Danny. His disapperance is the magnifying glass through which she examines this defining moment in her life — a precisely described, lonely coming of age that reshapes her every relationship, from those with her parents to that with her one friend, the awkward, geeky David Nelson. When the grown-up Lydia looks back from her 10-year high school reunion, nothing snaps into unrealistic clarity, but the big picture, the indelible mark on the girl who didn’t vanish, is visible all the same.

Miriam Gershow reads from The Local News at 7 pm, Tuesday, March 17, at the Downtown Library.