The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson 


by Anne Stone

Published by Insomniac Press

311 pages, 2007

Buy it online



Indelible Loss

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

One definition of delible is capable of being deleted. What a perfect title for a novel about a missing teenage girl.

Fifteen-year-old Lora Sprague is close is her older sister, Mel. Most of the time they do everything together: smoke, drink, do drugs, hang out, miss the school bus, stay out late, skip school and crash at their friend’s place when they’re too wasted to go home.

Mel is about to turn 16 when she disappears, but the police don’t seem to care too much about her vanishing act. The troubled teen has run away before; she has even tried to commit suicide. Her “talent for misery” encompasses everything from fears about acid rain to bombs, from terrorism to cancer. 

Brought up by a harried, single mother, living on scant resources in a subsidized housing development, these girls feel alarmingly real. The mother, Karin, was 15 when she got pregnant, and the father has always been missing. His mother, Celia, pays his child support for him. The absent dad bothers Mel a lot; she’s desperate to find him. It will bother the reader too. It strains credibility that neither mother nor grandmother will share this information with the girls. Given their crucial and natural need to know about their father, it’s also hard to believe both girls would not hound the women incessantly until they knew.

Although most of the story is from Lora’s point of view, every now and again the chapters shift to Celia and Karin. The shifts don’t add anything to the story and just might subtract a little. I prefer to learn everything from Lora, who’s sensitive and bright, even though she’s almost as troubled as her sister. By narrowing the focus, the sense of isolation would be strengthened as we experience Lora’s loneliness once her beloved sister is gone and everything shifts to an unreal, empty place, as if she is seeing the world through glass.

However, that would mean one poignant passage of Celia’s would be missed, a passage that feels better coming from an adult than a young girl: 

Karin tells me she doesn’t remember if Melissa ate her dinner that night, or ate nothing. She doesn’t remember the last instant she laid eyes on her, in the kitchen or living room or in the corridor, in passing. And she doesn’t know, cannot know, how it was or why Mel was not in her bedroom the next morning, though there had to be a precise moment in time, like the instant in which the first atom was split, a tiny unremarkable breach to which all the misery can be traced.

Although Lora knows that something awful has happened to Mel, because she would never run away the night before her 16th birthday when she was going to get her driver’s license, when Mel’s jacket and purse are discovered at the bus stop, the horror becomes more real for all of them. What teenage girl leaves a purse behind? The reality that she has been taken becomes starker.

The subject of a missing teenager is a wrenching one. Although such a plot has a strong likelihood of being a page-turner, such a scenario is not easy to write about. How to accurately convey the agony of a parent, or the loneliness and disorientation of a doting younger sister? 

The horror of the death of a child is unimaginable. Equally harrowing is the not knowing, an acute loss that is forever stalled between hope and horror. Stone’s obsession was well translated; the reader is dragged into this pain relentlessly.

One of the book’s strengths, too, is that the author has chosen the sister to tell her story. By showing the loss mostly through Lora’s eyes, she shifts the focus so that we can see in fuller dimension. Just as one cannot look directly at the sun, encountering such agony directly can be too harrowing. We may choose to look away. With Stone’s help, we can approach it by a more circuitous route, primarily through the eyes and experience of a bright but vulnerable young girl. It’s easier to take, in some ways, and harder.

For example Lora looks at her neighbor who has dropped by to help. The woman wipes the dust from Mel’s drawer with her sleeve and looks at Lora:

...her eyes twin apologies, I look at us through their eyes and for a second, a split second, I get it. I see them seeing us and I see, too, why it is we can just disappear.

At the end, Karin, in a moment that seems almost too insightful for her thinks:

What kind of a mother loses her girl? What is a mother who has lost her child? There isn’t even a word for that.

You lose your parents and that makes you an orphan. You lose your child and where are you then? Outside of language, that’s where you are.

Stone, a creative writing instructor who has written two other novels, is also the editor of Matrix Magazine.

Indelible, impossible to remove and therefore remaining forever. Like the terrible moment when Mel disappeared. Like the not knowing, ever. Like the way you may now may look at posters of missing girls. | September 2007

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including BC Bookworld, Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.