Excerpted from Missing Children by Lynn Crosbie. Copyright © 2003 by Lynn Crosbie. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Missing Children started as a short poem, in response to a short news piece a friend sent me off the wire, about a man who was arrested for contacting the families of missing children and pretending he had information about them. He then ceased all contact. He was arrested, but the police weren’t sure what to charge him with. That’s all I knew about the case, and I was drawn to it because the story is so acute, yet so wanting, with regard to any conceivable motivation (other than simple malicious mischief). I have written a lot of poems about murderers, and one experimental novel (Paul's Case), and liked to think of them – without hubris by association – as psychoanalytical/sociological interrogations (like Elliott Leyton’s work in Hunting Humans) or dramatic monologues in the style of Browning (particularly his work with the depraved). I was always curious, I am still curious about the realm beyond good and evil, where malfeasance, motive, and rough justice lies.
My work with the Missing Children narrator is secondary, ultimately, to my engagement with the notion of “missing children.” When I started writing the book, I was noticing detritus in the streets all the time, stray mittens and shoes, barrettes, school projects and so on, objects which seemed to form a jigsaw puzzle, a foundational narrative about fate, about simple or tragic carelessness, about the ways in which we may divine the world through a series of seemingly random clues. The poem/novel’s protagonist, similarly, reads his world through these prompts; similarly, exists, as writers do, in “silence, exile, cunning.” The resemblance ends there.
This is the first creative work I have written in the voice of a man, and while I enjoyed trying to get the argot and stance right, he is not someone I wish to carry forward – he (who is never named) is the ghost of my own inquiries; the devil that “enquires (terribly) further.” I was so interested in Hemingway and other manly men while writing the book, in the idea of stripping language to its basest form, devoiding it of metaphor and any figurative strategies other than similes – at one point, he explains a fellow criminal’s sexual violence as functioning like an engine and a key.
The book was always an engaging process, artistically; morally; I found it disquieting, the idea of letting someone be, regardless of my distaste. It is this sort of person, not a Billy the Kid or, again, a fact-freighted criminal, who interests me now: he is the little bug that scatters when the light rises; the mushroom growing in the crevices; the discarded object, whose utility is entirely subjective, and lost.