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  • Written by Miriam Gershow
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A Novel

Written by Miriam GershowAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Miriam Gershow

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: February 24, 2009
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-385-52970-9
Published by : Spiegel & Grau Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

When fifteen-year-old Lydia Pasternak’s popular older brother Danny disappears late one summer night, she unwillingly becomes a celebrity in her community and an afterthought to her bereaved parents. In Danny’s absence, Lydia blossoms from a bookish outcast to the center of attention, all while grappling with her grudging grief for a brother she never particularly liked. When an intriguing private investigator enters the picture, Lydia finds herself drawn into the search for clues to Danny’s whereabouts. The shocking end to that trail of clues—an end that Lydia never prepares for—will haunt her for the rest of her life. An authentic and at times surprisingly funny dissection of public and private grief, The Local News is an accomplished, affecting debut.

Excerpt

Drifters


After my brother went missing, my parents let me use their car whenever I wanted, even though I only had a learner's permit. They didn't enforce my curfew. I didn't have to ask to be excused from the dinner table. The dinner table, in fact, had all but disappeared, covered with posters of Danny, a box of the yellow ribbons that our whole neighborhood had tied around trees and mailboxes and car antennas, and piles of the letters we'd gotten from people praying for Danny's safe return or who thought they saw him hitchhiking along a highway a couple states away. I didn't have to do any more chores.

Years later, I joined a support group for siblings of missing or exploited kids. It was amazing how a group of like-minded individuals could make the most singular and self-defining of circumstances feel simply mundane. I suppose for some, such a thing would be normalizing, since everyone in the circle of couches and folding chairs had experienced equivalent tragedy. For me, it was deeply disconcerting. I had no idea how to compete with other people's misery. It was in that group that I heard about the two types of parents: clingers and drifters. The clingers became micromanagers and wildly overprotective, tightening the reins, imposing new rules, smothering their kids with unwanted attention, buying gifts like a canopy bed or a new stereo system. The drifters, on the other hand, lost themselves to some mysterious netherworld, existing on coffee and crackers and minutes of sleep per night. They forgot to take the garbage out. They let the kitchen floor grow sticky. They looked like they were listening when you spoke (they became expert at empathetic nodding), but really they were staring just past you, glassy-eyed. The concerns of the corporeal world became inconsequential to them, except for the fine, red-hot point of finding their child (not you; their other child). Aside from that, they, well, drifted.

My parents were drifters.

We couldn't keep the refrigerator stocked; its contents dwindled to bread heels and condiments in a matter of days. My mom started smoking again, years after having quit. Her energy was both frenetic and focused: she designed posters, concocted overly elaborate phone trees to recruit people for the area sweep searches, and added to her steadily growing stack of index cards, each one scribbled with a "clue" to help the police. Allergic to penicillin, she scrawled on one. Capricorn, she wrote on another. Born on night of a full moon. My father became quietly obsessed with the TV news--local, national, international, as if he couldn't rule out any possibility. Maybe Danny was part of the throngs of Bosnian Serb refugees; maybe he'd been victim to the floods in the Philippines. Dad could go days without speaking. He could sit for hours (six and a quarter, I counted one day) in his sunken chair without once getting up. And we kept running out of toilet paper. Over and over again we had to use tissues instead, until those ran out too and we moved to paper towels, which quickly clogged the pipes. I'd never before had to think about the supply of toilet paper in our household. It had always simply been there. I was fifteen. Up to that point, I'd believed that the world more or less worked--toilet paper sat on its roll, dinner was served hot at the table, everyone came home at the end of a day--simply because it was supposed to and it always had.

"There's no proper or improper way to grieve," the woman who ran the support group would say. I did not return after that first visit; the impulse, it quickly became clear, had been a mistake. The woman's face was chalky with powder, her cheeks too bright with rouge, her eyelashes clumped with mascara. The collar of her blouse rose up around her neck, tied into an improbably flouncy bow. The look of her offended me. She was all wrong; how was I supposed to take her as an authority? Other participants hunkered down low in their chairs, weeping appropriately into soggy tissues. Or nodding appreciatively. Or wringing their hands. They had the raccoon-eyed, red-veined look of the haunted.

Finding myself backed into the overly familiar terrain of heartache and desperation brought out the worst in me. I was cornered, wanting to scream or kick my chair over or run my nails along the chalkboard where the woman had made us brainstorm a list of feeling words about our siblings (love, confusion, fear, sadness, the list began, predictably). I wanted to reel off my own list of shitty things Danny had done to me when we were teenagers (calling me the titless wonder, mashing my face in a pillow once until I couldn't breathe, ignoring me in front of his friends). I wanted to be irreverent and inappropriate. I wanted to shake up the righteous anguish. Going missing, I wanted to yell from some deep, dark pit in the middle of me, was the only interesting thing my brother had ever done.


2.
In the first weeks after Danny's disappearance, I drove. I would spend long minutes in the garage before starting the car, adjusting the rearview and side mirrors, moving my dad's seat up and down and backward and forward until I had just the perfect view of the world behind me. I'd practice looking over my left shoulder to see past my blind spot, imagining that the bushy maple in our yard was a semi trying to barrel past me. Finally I'd back down our long driveway, my head out the window, the warm summer air making my cheeks feel blushed.

The whole act was fraught with a particular anxiety. Aside from being not strictly legal, I could never forget the smallness of me compared to the bigness of the car and the gaping margin for error created by the contrast. One wrong move and I could easily swerve into the oncoming lane or plow through a red light into a bustling intersection. The very act of driving--the successful negotiation of feet on pedals and hands on steering wheel and eyes in mirror--felt death-defying.

But I kept going back to it, night after night, and not just because it was a way to get out of the house and away from my parents and whichever well-meaning, wet-eyed neighbors or family friends were visiting. Even with the nervous thrum in my belly, driving managed to calm me down, focusing my attention on palatable, bite-sized fragments of data--two yellow lines, a green arrow, a bright red taillight. I had just finished the summer-school offering of driver's ed the month before and my stops were still jerky; I often overestimated how much gas I needed and regularly peeled out from stops; I scraped the curb on the few occasions I tried to parallel park. I was drawn to it in the same nagging way I was drawn to anything I wasn't yet good at, like when I'd spent the summer before eighth-grade algebra learning polynomial and quadratic equations, or when I'd spent weeks memorizing every strait in the world after losing the middle-school geography bee (Joshua Belson had beaten me, knowing that the Naruto Strait connected Awaji Island and Shikoku in Japan).

So each night, after my parents absently nodded in my direction and the raspy-voiced neighbor or family friend leaned in to hug me or place a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, I slipped out to the garage and into Dad's car. But I didn't have anyplace to go. I'd spent the bulk of my life up to that point either in school or in my room studying or in my best friend David Nelson's den paging through books and listening to music and generally lolling around. Most nights now, I'd deliver stacks of Missing Person posters to the ring of businesses surrounding our city. In the beginning, the sympathetic attention of strangers was still intoxicating.

The lady in the Kroger made an ohhh noise as she promised to hang it on the community bulletin board at the front of the store. The manager at the Blockbuster called me sweetheart and offered me a coupon: rent two, get one free. The kid who scooped ice cream at Baskin-Robbins said he'd take two because he worked another shift at the store in Belvedere. He looked, honestly, like he could cry. It was months--sixty-three days, actually--before anyone told me no. The guy behind the counter at the Texaco Mini-Mart just shook his head and said, "Sorry, ma'am." He couldn't post it in the window. Company policy.

"What company policy?" I asked, pointing to the poster for Once Upon a Mattress at Jefferson Middle School and one for the Red Cross: Give Blood. Save a Life. He repeated his line about manager approval in his thick, mumbling accent. His dark face was drawn, with wiry bits of hair growing in uneven patches across his chin. He was yellow around the eyes, which made him look sick.

His name tag said Kito. East Asian? African? Middle Eastern? I couldn't tell from his bland, bored features. It seemed like he could be anything. I assumed his bad attitude came from all the Franklin High jerkoffs who'd come in here before me, making What up, Apu? jokes or calling him Mohammed. But I was capable of talking to Kito like a normal person. I was capable of discussing the Oslo Accords or the Indian-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir, and not just because I could regurgitate facts from Mr. Hollingham's AP history class--which I could--but because I took a particular pride in actually reading newspapers and listening to the radio.

The fluorescent lights buzzed loudly above me. "Can't you take this now and get manager approval later?" I asked, sliding the poster across the rubbery mat on the counter. Danny was posed in his football uniform, down on one knee, a football socked in one armpit, his face broad and unobjectionable as a meatloaf, smiling as if Santa Claus himself had snapped the picture.
Beneath the photograph in bold, blocky letters it said, LAST SEEN 8/2/1995. There were other details scattered in a bunch of contrasting, discordant fonts and sizes and colors, because my mom, its designer, was a leaky container for panic. In italicized blue Courier, it listed what Danny had been wearing (Reebok gym shoes, shorts, gray T-shirt, Tigers ball cap); in huge red Times New Roman, how much my parents would reward someone for information leading to his whereabouts ($25,000; up another $10,000 from the last poster); in bolded Arial, where he was last seen (two miles from our house, leaving the basketball courts at the Larkgrove Elementary School playground, where he'd just finished a game with his musclehead friends, Tip and Kent). It didn't say musclehead on the poster, didn't even mention Tip and Kent.

Kito (Kite-o, I wondered, or Kee-toh?) told me no. No manager tonight, he said.

"Can't you hold it somewhere in the back until a manager arrives? Leave it on the manager's desk? Maybe put a note on it?" I was trying to stay reasonable, but I could hear my voice getting loud. A couple of guys had come into the Mini-Mart, one opening and closing the cooler doors, the other standing right behind me. I could smell the faint odor of gasoline coming off him, but I didn't turn around. "Please," I said.

Kito looked at me, yellow and expressionless. I was sure he had not the highest opinion of Americans, as most probably came in here for a six-pack of Bud or Marlboro menthols or a whole strip of lottery tickets with their Slurpee. Still, I wasn't used to strangers unmoved by tragedy.

"Listen," I said, speaking slowly and evenly. "I am not asking you to hang this poster immediately. I will leave it here to get whatever approval you need."

He called me ma'am again, even though he was old enough to be my father, and told me Sorry. "Sir, I can help you?" he said to the person behind me.

I curled my fingers around the rickety wire rack that held local maps, not quite sure what to do with myself. I wanted to tell Kito to go screw himself, but adults, even adults manning a gas station counter, still held relatively unassailable sway with me, so I chickened out and instead flicked my hand in his general direction, an insane motion, as if I were sprinkling fairy dust on him. For a second he opened his sick eyes a bit wider and I thought maybe I was starting to get through, but then, still, nothing. I left the poster on the counter, just to make a point, though I pictured Kito almost immediately throwing it into the metal wastebasket beside him, already overfilled with Snickers wrappers and Doritos bags.

The man behind me called over my head, "Pump eight." Kito started pressing the keys of his cash register. I opened the door hard on my way out, the bells on top clinking loudly and also, I hoped, angrily and indignantly and ultimately pityingly, for Kito and his sad little life there inside the Mini-Mart.


I dropped off posters at Wendy's, Arby's, Valu-Rite, and the Chevron. The car wash, the dry cleaners, and the Comerica branch were all already closed--it was nearly nine on a Tuesday. I scanned the radio for news. An AM host talked fuzzily about fallout from the O. J. Simpson verdict with a lady who yelled about how it was open season on battered women. On another station there was a story about riots in Lyons that broke out after the police killed a local bombing suspect. Bad news was soothing, as if at least it was the whole world that was screwed.

The lights of the A&W were still bright, the booths half full. Inside, there was a flash of purple-and-yellow letter jackets, which gave me a quick, instinctual stutter, a chill up the back of my neck. My new therapist, Chuck, would've told me the feeling was a grief response. Chuck thought everything was a grief response. And sure, you could have interpreted the jackets as a reminder of Danny, who likely would've been in there with the rest of them, eating burgers and slurping root beers and burping words. He'd be play-punching his friends on the arms, except his play punches would be hard, and soon two or three of the guys would end up in a dramatic little scuffle, Danny in a headlock, Tip or Kent with an arm around Danny's neck, tousling Danny's hair and saying, "What you want, pretty boy? You want to throw down?" and everyone would be laughing, even Danny, and maybe he'd spit burger out of his mouth or root beer would come flying through his nose. The whole crowd of them would make a huge racket, disturbing all the other A&W customers without even noticing or, if they noticed, without giving a crap.
Miriam Gershow|Author Q&A

About Miriam Gershow

Miriam Gershow - The Local News
Miriam Gershow graduated from the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon and was a Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her stories have appeared in the Georgia Review, Black Warrior Review, and Quarterly West, among other literary journals. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she is a college instructor with the English Department at The University of Oregon.

 

Author Q&A

A conversition with Miriam Gershow


Random House Reader’s Circle: What initially inspired you to write The Local News

Miriam Gershow:
Before I ever conceived of The Local News, I had completed a short story collection and was looking for an agent. Everyone in my life who knew anything about publishing told me to include the following line in my query letters: “My next project is a novel, which I am currently working on.” Agents, everyone told me, love novels. So I included the line even though it was a lie. Well, not an absolute lie. I figured by the time I actually found an agent— which I imagined might take a while—I’d be at work on my next project and maybe it would be a novel. But to my surprise I ended up finding a great match in the very first agent I queried. The only glitch, of course, was the matter of my imaginary novel. So it was crunch time. 

I’ve always been the type of writer whose ideas start small—a single line of dialogue, a vague idea of a character, a rough sketch of a scene. I’ve never been able to write from an outline or envision the full arc of a story before sitting down to write it, and The Local News was no exception. One line popped into my head: “Going missing was the only interesting thing my brother had ever done.” Instantly, I was intrigued: What if you had mixed feelings about a loved one’s disappearance? I’ve always been interested in ambivalence in relationships and the love-hate feelings we often have toward those who are closest to us. 

Soon after that line came to me, I wrote the first full scene: Lydia and Kito arguing in the mini-mart about hanging up the Missing Person poster. From there, I found myself naturally exploring Lydia’s world: her parents and Danny and David Nelson and Lola Pepper, to start. I had, to my great relief, made good on my lie. That initial line proved to be one of the rare gifts of my writing life. It hovered in my mind throughout the first draft, creating momentum and propelling me forward while I figured out exactly what this story was about and who these characters were. 

RHRC:
You have been praised for your unusually authentic depiction of high school. Where did you draw from in creating this picture of teenage life? 

MG:
Well, even though (unlike Lydia), I skipped my twenty-year high school reunion, a part of me still feels rooted in adolescence. I’m convinced this is true of most people, since high school is such a grueling, seemingly inescapable time in our lives. Its imprint will always be on us, no matter how successful we become. So while I’m a happy, well-adjusted grown-up with a career and a family and a mortgage, some part of me still relates to the particular vulnerability and skinlessness that is the teenage experience. I wasn’t nearly as smart as Lydia in high school, but I definitely shared her sense of alienation. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I drew upon my own memories and experiences in writing The Local News, even though I never had a missing brother or Ivy League aspirations or friends on the flag team. 

Also, I work at a university, and though there’s a difference between an eighteen-year-old college student and a fifteen-yearold in high school, I have daily contact with young people just like Danny—boys with well-honed bravado who have a hard time writing coherent sentences—and quiet, earnest girls like Lydia who have unflattering haircuts and surprise everyone with their insights when they speak. Sitting in classrooms with eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds three days a week keeps me tapped into the squirming personalities and restless thrumming of, if not high school, then at least late adolescence. This helps me keep those voices very much alive in my head. 

RHRC:
Why did you make the decision to make Lydia smart and Danny dumb? Did you view this as the primary source of their rift? 

MG:
A little bit of background: In graduate school, when I was still figuring out how to write stories, Charles Baxter visited my MFA program and read one of my pieces. I had what bordered on sycophantic love for Charles Baxter’s work, so I handed him what I considered to be my very best story, about a widower who is obsessed with visiting hospital patients who have survived failed suicide attempts. I’d been told for years that I wrote “loveable losers,” which I considered a compliment. I waited for Baxter to heap on the praise, to instantly shepherd my work into publication, and to profess his equally sycophantic love for me. Instead what he told me was this: My protagonist was an overdetermined loser. It was obvious from the first page that everything he set out to do would be a failure, so the story lacked any real momentum and tension.

 It was a startling, humbling, and semiheartbreaking moment— one of those moments in learning how to write when you realize a critique is completely correct and your own opinion is upended. Ever since then, my fear of the overdetermined loser has hovered over my stories, because I tend to pick outsiders and underdogs as my protagonists. So when I was writing that very first scene in the mini-mart and Lydia presented herself to me as the kind of precociously smart character who spouted off facts about the Oslo Accords and the conflict over Kashmir, I seized on the idea. Her intelligence became a defining characteristic. I knew it would elevate her from being simply one more mopey high school loser. And while she often used her book smarts as a mask for her growing internal panic and confusion, it also kept her from devolving into a simpering wallflower. Even as everything else fell apart, Lydia was still smart. This provided a ray of hope. As harrowing as her adolescent circumstances were, her intelligence offered the possibility of a better future.

 And I’m not sure I see Danny as dumb. In many ways, he was a smart, savvy kid, able to charm nearly everyone around him and easily negotiate the tricky social scene of high school. At some point early in the first draft, I feared that he was coming across as a onedimensional bully, but I knew his aggression had to be fed by some kind of insecurity. To me, his learning disabilities didn’t make him a dumb jock—they made him vulnerable and desperate to preserve his image as a golden boy. Popularity was his mask, just like Lydia’s intelligence was hers. 

I certainly think this is one source of the rift between Lydia and Danny. But I don’t think there’s any one reason why siblings stop getting along or why they fight or why one is embarrassed by the other. It’s a complicated relationship, and the contrast between Danny’s learning disabilities and Lydia’s fierce intelligence was just one of their relationship’s complications. The high school social hierarchy was another one. So was the disparate attention from their parents. So were the normal growing pains of adolescence. 

RHRC:
You describe Lydia’s parents as “drifters.” Do you have sympathy for them? 

MG:
Absolutely I have sympathy for them. One of the most interesting questions that came to me in writing a missing-person story was: What would happen to a family if you suddenly remove one of its key players? Every family exists within its own weird universe; there are norms and dynamics that would seem strange to an outsider. Danny was the magnet of the Pasternak family. He was—for all his other failings—the easier kid for this particular set of parents. I don’t think that makes Lydia’s parents evil. I think that makes them human. Lydia was the far more independent child, even long before Danny was gone. She just wasn’t as close to her parents as her brother was. So when he vanished, all three naturally drifted from one another. Lydia doesn’t go to her parents for help or support. And they view her—often inaccurately—as the child who can take care of herself. They are also consumed in their own almost unfathomable grief. 

I know a number of readers who have wanted to shake Lydia’s parents by the shoulders, to urge them to reach out to Lydia, to recognize her grief and offer more love and support. I understand this. But also I think they did the best they could. They made small efforts—Mom brings Lydia and David the root beer floats, Dad reassures Lydia after the near accident, they both bring Lydia to the cemetery. But they are limited in their capacity. The family after Danny disappeared is the same family it was before he disappeared; these three people don’t quite know what to do with one another or how to truly be with one another. When Danny was there, he served as a big, loud distraction to this dynamic. All eyes were on him. 

RHRC:
Throughout the book, we see the community’s response to Danny’s disappearance. Everyone from Min Mathers to the head of the PTA to Kirk Donovan to Melissa Anne has “laid claim to him,” as Lydia puts it. Why was that response important to the story? 

MG:
I find the public grief that accompanies such tragedies genuinely fascinating. There’s something both authentic and contrived about it. I think about this when I watch news coverage of school shootings: Even people not directly affected by the shootings—who didn’t know the shooter or the victims—sob to reporters. I don’t think that display of emotion is fake. These people usually appear to be genuinely distraught. But I wonder why. Sometimes I think that a universal vein of grief runs through all of us—most of us have directly experienced some kind of loss and the few who haven’t still have to face their own mortality—and we use these community tragedies to vent some of that universal grief. 

So I was intrigued by the community response to Danny’s disappearance. Part of the response was opportunistic, like the yellow ribbons fashioned into bracelets and hair bands. But I also think this town was truly bereft, even those people who barely knew Danny. I liked the muddle of the situation; Lydia certainly viewed the community loss as less authentic than her own. But was it? I think the nature of public grief is more complicated than that. 

RHRC:
Do you think that Danny loved Lydia and that Lydia loved Danny?

 MG: Yes and yes. Definitely. As much as I loved that initial line— “Going missing was the only interesting thing my brother had ever done”—I realized early on in my writing that it was a lie that Lydia told herself. The part of her that was crushed by Danny’s cruelty and rejection certainly wanted to believe it, but the part of her that deeply loved her brother knew it wasn’t true. Look at the Bridge Game. Look at Miggle Man. Beneath their adolescent estrangement was a childhood love that was never entirely extinguished. 

The same goes for Danny. Yes, he grew into a brutish teenager. Teenagers can be stupid and thoughtless, especially those who are preoccupied with their status as Danny was. But he was also capable of thoughtfulness; when Lydia is in the factory with Bayard and Lola, she remembers how Danny’s occasional kindnesses turned her into the crazy rat. I think those occasional kindnesses signal that Danny never completely lost affection for Lydia. He had a hard time communicating that affection in a consistent way, but someone like Danny would have struggled with having a sister who was so naturally intelligent and who faced so few of the same challenges as he did. So I think there was real cause for resentment on his end. And certainly Lydia was justified in her resentment of Danny. But I don’t think either of them lacked an underlying love for the other. In the end, at the reunion, Lydia wonders what it would have been like if they had survived into adulthood together. I think there remains the very real possibility that they would have outgrown their adolescent chafing and regained some of the intimacy they shared as children. 

Praise

Praise

The Local News is the story of a life created around loss. Gershow’s book is deeply sympathetic, often painful, and always utterly believable. Not a book you’re likely to put down once started, nor to forget once finished, a remarkable achievement.” —Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

The Local News achieves two nearly impossible things: It’s a funny book about harrowing circumstances, and it’s a poignant book about high school. Gershow’s narrator, Lydia Pasternak, is droll, keen, and utterly engaging. I couldn’t put this novel down.” —Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and About Grace

“Miriam Gershow has a fresh, funny and very engaging voice and a powerful story to tell, and Lydia Pasternak is a character you’ll miss long after the book is finished. I was charmed from the first page and undone by the last.” —Beth Gutcheon, author of Still Missing and Good-bye and Amen

“Miriam Gershow is a graceful novelist. The Local News is sharp and tender, bitter and sweet. It is, in short, what the news reports rarely give us—the human story, the one that resides deep in the heart, in this case, of Lydia Pasternak, a young girl struggling to define herself in the days and years following her brother’s disappearance. Her journey kept me captivated to the end.” —Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and River of Heaven
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In the first half of the book, what does Lydia believe happened to Danny? Based on her actions and attitudes, what might she think is the cause of her brother’s disappearance? 

2. As Lydia is delivering Missing Person posters through the neighborhood in Chapter 2, she confesses, “In the beginning, the sympathetic attention of strangers was still intoxicating” (page 8). How does Lydia’s response to such attention change throughout the book? Does she remain, on some level, intoxicated by it? 

3. What is your opinion of Danny’s friends—namely Tip and Lola—at the start of the book? Does your opinion of them change by the end? 

4. What is Lydia’s motivation for getting involved in the investigation of Danny’s disappearance? Why is she so drawn to Denis? 

5. What is the significance of the title? We see a newscast with Kirk Donovan early in the book. Are there other meanings to the idea of “the local news?” 

6. How would have Lydia’s story been different if her parents had been “clingers” instead of “drifters”? 

7. Through the Saturday searches, the school assembly, and shiva, among other times, we see the larger community respond to Danny’s disappearance. How would you characterize the community reaction? And is this reaction a balm or a burden for the Pasternak family and for Lydia, in particular? 

8. How might the family and community have reacted differently were Lydia the one to disappear? Do you think there would have been as much drama, sentiment, and grief focused on her absence? 

9. Lydia has three distinct best friends through her tenthgrade year—David Nelson, Lola Pepper, and Bayard. What does each of these friendships reveal about Lydia? 

10. Danny left a strong impression on everybody around him. He was known as either a bully, a champion, a leader, or a struggling student. Who was the real Danny? How do all of these pieces of his personality fit together? 

11. At the end of the interrogation scene between Denis and Lydia, Lydia watches him shrug and notes, “I had no idea what he meant by it. Sorry, Charley? Whoops? All in a day’s work?” (pages 233–234). What do you think Denis means by the shrug—and by the entire interrogation? What are his motivations? Does he truly suspect Lydia of wrongdoing? Is he just doing his job or is something darker at work? 

12. In the scene of the near car crash, Lydia says of her father’s sudden reassurances from the passenger seat: “I remembered a little bit that he loved me, so I loved him a little bit back” (page 247). Who has been most guilty of holding back their affections in the Pasternak family? Lydia? Her parents? All equally? Why do you suppose these affections have been so long suppressed? 

13. Lydia spends much of her time estranged from other characters in the book. She’s most dramatically estranged from her parents, but soon also grows estranged from David Nelson, and eventually from Denis, Lola Pepper, Tip Reynolds, and everyone else who crosses her path during this year. Does she detach because of the extraordinary circumstances of her brother’s vanishing, or would she have been a profound loner even had Danny not disappeared? 

14. There is a twelve-year gap between the year Danny goes missing and the reunion. What do you imagine Lydia’s life was like during those intervening years? How would she have fared during her final two years of high school? How successful were her college years? Her years in D.C.? 

15. At the reunion, Lydia says the “real question” is who she and Danny would have been to each other as adults. Do you think their relationship would have changed or would it have remained the same as it had been in adolescence? 

16. The idea of “drifting” comes up throughout the book. Lydia’s parents are classified as “drifters.” Lydia lets herself get swept along with Lola’s enthusiasm and Danny’s friends’ attention and Bayard’s bemused incomprehension of America. Lydia wants to feel a bit lost in the end and theorizes that Danny did too. What do you make of this theme of drifting? What is its significance in the story? 

17. In the final car ride with David Nelson, Lydia reflects, “There was a part of me that had long curled in on itself and atrophied, perhaps beginning the day Danny slipped unremarkably out the front door, perhaps long before that. I could feel it unfurling now, churning through my watery belly and rising up my throat, coming out my nostrils and my mouth, dragon breath singeing my earlobes and making my face sweat even in the breeze of the AC” (pages 355–356). What exactly is the part of Lydia that had curled up on itself and atrophied? And why is it opening now, in this car ride? 

18. The novel ends when Lydia is twenty-eight. Do you think she has, at this point, “recovered” from Danny’s disappearance? Has her mother? 

19. In the last sentence, Lydia’s thinking about Danny “jangling with possibility and promise, his future wide open” (page 357), and yet we know his future was grim. What do you think this ending might say about Lydia and her future?  


  • The Local News by Miriam Gershow
  • February 09, 2010
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Spiegel & Grau
  • $15.00
  • 9780385527620

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