Frederick's Reviews > We Disappear

We Disappear by Scott Heim
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's review
Feb 06, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: heim-scott, novels
Read in March, 2008

In my view, Scott Heim's three novels form a triptych. MYSTERIOUS SKIN, IN AWE and WE DISAPPEAR are not connected, but they are variations on a theme. Each book involves a search, and the searchers are outcast souls whose kinship, through blood or experience, is ghostly. If you set the characters of Williams's GLASS MENAGERIE in search of the moment everything shattered in their house of glass, you'd get an idea of the stage on which Scott Heim sets his dramas. The two disparate souls of Truman Capote's A CHRISTMAS MEMORY could perch themselves comfortably here among these broken memories.
A lot of people try for the effect Scott Heim has achieved in each of these novels. A lot of people get close. I can watch an episode of SIX FEET UNDER and almost feel what I feel reading Scott Heim. I have a feeling a current Broadway play I haven't seen, Tracy Letts's AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, might have something of this effect. But what is generally atmosphere for others is almost holy when Scott Heim treats it. He describes a wall of magazine, postcard and greeting card images of angels without signaling the reader what he thinks of it or what he thinks we should think of it. Stephen King, who knows this world, would definitely have somebody shuddering at the sight of such a wall. But, by not saying whether this wall is tacky, or somehow beautiful, Heim conveys the idea that someone took the time to clip the images and put them on display. That this wall forms a counterpart to the many surfaces throughout the book on which the faces of the missing have been taped, stapled or tacked goes without saying, and it goes unsaid. Almost any other writer would draw arrows, bring up the background music or have someone comment on the similarity.
This highly visual book, dealing with doubt, is, nevertheless, naturalistic. It is attuned to mood. Scott Heim's writing reminds me of photo-realist painting. If done right, a painting which looks like a photograph can be startling in a way a photograph cannot. So, what is real is not necessarily the point of WE DISAPPEAR. Ambiguity isn't even the point. But if we allow ourselves to look, we can sometimes see ourselves.

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