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January 18, 2023

Missing by Cornelia Spelman ~ a Review

by MK French

Cornelia's mother smoked constantly and loved mysteries. She had five children but soon accused her son of trying to kill her. Banished to a nursing home afterward, her story was hidden until Cornelia began to piece it all together. Using interviews, letters, telegrams, and all kinds of documents, the mystery of her mother's life and the long-lost brother is told here.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of memoir Missing by Cornelia Spelman
July 2022; Jackleg Press; 978-1737513445
print (176 pages); memoir

Cornelia Spelman is a former therapist and children's author. A lot of those books focused on feelings, teaching them how to recognize and handle them. Between her training and this kind of background, she was certainly well-equipped to deal with hard topics in a graceful manner. The book is a memoir not just of her mother, but of the circumstances leading to the memoir's creation. There's a lot of her parents' early lives that she never knew, as most children never know about their parents as people. If not for sparking a friendship with editor William Maxwell, who had been friends with her parents in college, this volume might never have been written.

We get the story of Cornelia's life with her parents in their final years as she knew them, then the journey of obtaining medical records and talking with the doctors and nurses that knew her mother. This also led to tracking down her eldest brother, who had disappeared several times over the course of his life. She couldn't ever definitively discover what had happened to cause the psychosis, and of course, no doctor would retroactively try to guess. Then the story shifts to the past, to all of the events that made Elizabeth the woman that she was. It's in this section that I found the very poignant words: "I hoped that my children would not have to search, as I had, for buried love. But it seemed that every child had to arrive at his or her own understanding of mother and father, and of all—good and bad—that they pass on."

It was an incredible effort to try to piece together her parents' lives, particularly her mother's. Along the way she figured out a few other mysteries within her family tree. Some questions can never be answered because there are no documents to guess from. There's such a sense of loss and melancholy throughout the book because there are still so many gaps when trying to recreate a life from ephemera. We can't ever know the whole of people from the records they leave behind, but we do see glimpses of their personalities and what holds meaning to them by what they keep. In making this journey and putting it into a novel, we see that Cornelia values history and posterity as well as family connections, and her hope to pass that down. I hope others value that as well.

Buy Missing at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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