The Disappeared: Stories

Image of The Disappeared: Stories
Release Date: 
April 11, 2023
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“every story in the collection is beautifully constructed, consisting of elegant, at times lyrical prose, is engaging, and is propelled by a compelling, astute narrative voice.”

Andrew Porter’s well-crafted story collection The Disappeared is notably about loss, or as the aptly named final story alludes to, what’s disappeared. The elegiac tales focus on the loss of youth, relationships, and aspirations and disappointments. While every story in the collection is alike in theme and tone, each one is haunting, memorable, and stands alone in its own right.

Confessional in tone, every story in The Disappeared is narrated by a first-person male narrator. The specific details and dramas differ from tale to tale, but all the stories take place in or refer to living in Texas, possess a highly observant but often inert male narrator who watches and sees the women in his relationships, tensions in his relationships, complicated triangular relationships, artists—specifically female artists, smoking and drinking—and nostalgia for college days and lost youth.

The longer stories are even alike in structure. They begin in the present, pose a problem or sow the seeds for dramatic tension, then move to the past, providing background, then return to the present and the unfolding or resolution of the drama. For instance, the beautifully rendered story “Rhinebeck” begins: “For the past few years, my daily routine has been pretty much the same.” After the narrator introduces his relationship as observer of and confessor to his married friends David and Rebecca, he pauses to reminisce about the past: “When I first met the two of them, back in college, we were all working together in the campus library’s film department.” The story concludes with the dismantling and separation of the trio.

The Disappeared opens with the short story “Cigarettes,” whose first line “In the other life, the life before we had kids, I used to imagine us in some foreign city. . . ,” sets the nostalgic pitch for the rest of the collection.

Many of the stories in The Disappeared possess a sense of impending danger or doom. In “Breathe” the narrator describes his anxiety about being a parent alongside his observation that his young son is growing increasingly distant from him. The narrator’s concerns are punctuated by his son’s near drowning experience, which heightens the father’s fears and points to his role as an observer rather than an actor.

Likewise, in the story “Bees” a couple, with a young child, who are in the midst of a “trial separation” because the wife is suffering from depression, live in a house that is menaced by a swarm of bees. The daughter Rhea explains her mother’s absence by asserting that “Mommy’s in heaven,” further alarming her father. The story concludes ominously: “I suddenly felt it, that we were entering into another phase, a deeper phase without any foreseeable end. I braced myself. In the distance, at the far end of the yard, it was completely dark now, though I knew they were back there somewhere, in the darkness, circling the laundry room wall, swirling in slow motion, probably growing in number.”

The final longer stories of The Disappeared, “Jimena” and “The Disappeared” home in on the theme of lost youth and the death of one’s hopes and dreams. In “Jimena” the narrator laments “the absence of this acknowledgment,” “the reality of being unseen, of walking through life as a ghost.” In “The Disappeared,” which begins, “I have a photograph of Daniel on the last day I ever saw him,” the narrator helps to pack up the home of his close college friend, who has gone missing in Joshua Tree National Park and is presumed dead.

Despite their similarity in form, tone, and content, the stories in The Disappeared are not formulaic. Instead, every story in the collection is beautifully constructed, consisting of elegant, at times lyrical prose, is engaging, and is propelled by a compelling, astute narrative voice.