So clearly the question is, if I don't like short stories why do I keep reading collections of short stories. Let me explain as quickly as I can. I heard of Dan Chaon's "great" book Among the Missing and so I reserved it from my library without realizing it was a book of short stories. At the same time, Await Your Reply (a novel) was available (furthering my expectation that Chaon was a novelist). I read Await Your Reply and it wasn't great, but it was okay (and it wasn't what had been recommended after all, so I wasn't so bitter) and then later (before Among the Missing had come in) I found Fitting Ends and checked it out (again without realizing it was a book of short stories until I started reading it). While I was reading Fitting Ends, Among the Missing finally came in on reserve. I was not a huge fan of Fitting Ends (for a few reasons, read that review if you want info), but again it was not the one that was recommended and now I had Among the Missing in hand and so...I read it.
In Among the Missing, Chaon again deals with the complexities of family relationships, addiction, loneliness, and (obviously) loss. The loneliness theme (especially paired with the white trash, intelligent reader) I found particularly compelling for my own personal reasons. In Big Me, the very astute 8 year thinks : "If no one knows you, then you are no one." and Colleen in Looking Backward "she wonders if she will ever not be lonely. Perhaps, she thinks, being lonely is a part of her, like the color of her eyes and skin, something in her genes." All of the characters in these stories have secrets or social awkwardness (usually because they are intelligent, but not good at relating to people) and so wallow in their own lonliness to some extent. Those that seem to be the most "normal" or "well adjusted" turn out to still be harboring something (such as Tom in Something to Remember Me By After I'm Gone).
I also enjoyed his take on parenthood. My mother-in-law once said that parenthood is 9 parts boredom coupled with 1 part complete terror. Chaon deals with parenting well in Prodigal: "It doesn't matter what you do. In the end, you are going to be judged, and all the times that you're not at your most dignified are the ones that will be recalled in all their vivid, heartbreaking detail." and "I could actually feel the goodness moving out of me, the way you can feel blood moving when you blush or grow pale. 'Come on, guys' I said, 'let's not fight. This is fun, isn't it? Let's have fun.' But my gentle voice was just an imitation," to describe the moment when instead of enjoying his children's company he is moved to parent-mediator. Lots of the other stories talk about the relationship between parent and adult child and the loss that arises when they don't really know each other (bringing up the slightly trite question of can we ever know anyone?), but Prodigal was the only one that dealt with parent and young child relationship.
For a collection of short stories it held together remarkably well. I won't repeat my complaint about short stories (see review of Fitting Ends if you want it), but besides that it was a good book. All of the stories featured some missing person...some were dead, some were actually missing, and some were just ideas of people who never were (but that of course made them missing). These characters were still similar (both to each other and occasionally to some of the characters from Fitting Ends and Await Your Reply...lots of lawyers, a few realtors, readers, drunks, and general white trash sprinkled throughout), but at least they weren't in the same small town (although we still get a lot of rural NE...write what you know Danny boy) and they were more complex and compelling that those found in Fitting Ends. Overall, I think each of the stories managed to say something unique, but similar to the others.