Missing Women is a short story by June Spence, published in 1996. The story is written in a report style, with detailed accounts of the investigation of the disappearance of three women. The narrator tells the story from the community’s point of view, using second person plural pronouns instead of identifying as an individual observer. The story is full of suspense, and the reader expects it to have a happy ending, with all three women coming home and bringing peace to the community.
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However, that dream is never reached: the last sentence, suggesting that the women have been dead and buried in the woods for weeks, dashes all expectations of the happy ending. However, Missing Women is the type of story where the narrative is more important than the ending. In this essay I want to argue that the author uses an unusual storytelling technique, employing both facts and speculations, as well as the gradual change of tone and atmosphere, to create a feeling of suspense.
From the first few lines of the story, it looks very similar to a police report. Dry middle-length sentences have little to no imagery, yet are full of important details, such as the description of the van and the beginning of the investigation process. The author’s point of view is that of a police investigator or a concerned community member. The narrative begins after the disappearance, and the narration does not have any valuable information about the crime or women’s location. In the second paragraph, the author uses rhetorical questions that echo the reader’s concerns: “What happened? […] No alarm in broken glass?” By mirroring the reader’s thoughts, the author creates a parallel between the narrator and the reader, thus establishing that the narrator is just as oblivious to the situation as the audience is.
In addition to the present-tense storytelling, this technique helps the author to raise the suspense further: there is no feeling that the story has already reached a conclusion; the audience is walked through the events as if they unravel in front of their eyes, making them part of the story and creating more tension. As the story progresses, the author begins to create a mixture of facts and rumors; a mixture that is inevitable in any real-life investigation. For instance, the narrator outlines the interrogation of Vicky’s ex-boyfriend, explaining that his alibi for the night was a security video from work. However, in the next paragraph, the facts give space to speculation: “Was Vicky pregnant? […] Running off might have been easier to contemplate as a group”. The continuing alteration between facts and speculations occurs throughout the story.
The author uses it to highlight the uncertainty and the lack of real clues, thus increasing the reader’s desire to find out the girls’ fate. As the story progresses, the speculations become darker, and so do the facts. The vanishing of the hope that the women will be found is reflected in the gloomy tone of the work: it seems as if the narrator is mocking the searchers, knowing that their efforts will be fruitless. For instance, when providing survey statistics, the narrator states, “Two percent suggest they know something that the rest of us don’t, and they aren’t telling. The poll has a two percent margin of error”. As this point, the seemingly inevitable outcome is that the women will be found dead.
Nevertheless, the narrator does not provide the readers with any definitive conclusion. The last paragraph turns the previous speculations into fantasies; the narrator provides several glimpses of the possible ending only to finish the story with the most likely theory: “We sense them beneath the pads of our feet, planted deep in the dark, green woods, bones cooling, and we wake, knowing they’ve been here all along”. By not providing a definitive conclusion to the story of the missing women, the author ensures that the tension and suspense do not decay and that the readers are left questioning which speculations were indeed correct.