I’m reading Sophie Littlefield’s latest novel, The Missing Place. Colleen and Shay, the mothers whose two sons are missing, have frequent disagreements due to their different backgrounds. Littlefield contrasts these characters in a realistic, sometimes humorous, way. On page 69, they argue outside about how to proceed with searching for their sons. Shay gives in and lets Collen try to get information her way. Colleen prepares to approach two young girls working for the North Dakota oil business. She “faked a pleasant smile and went back inside.” It reminded me of my post on November 7th about smiles.
A few paragraphs later on page 70, Colleen asks the young girls about the sons disappearances. She tries to contain her emotions and maintains the fake smile. Littlefield writes, “Her face felt brittle. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep it up. But she’d learned the technique—smile before speaking even when disagreeing—at a conflict-resolution workshop she’d taken back when she was on the PTA regional board, and it really did help. Something about tricking the brain, redirecting one’s impulses. “Did either of you know my son Paul? Paul Mitchell?”
Colleen is right. As babies, the brain is programmed to recognize a smile as friendly. She wanted to win over the young girls so she smiled before speaking to them (a fake smile since she was too worried to genuinely smile). Although Colleen’s face “felt brittle” from holding the smile a long time, one of the girls takes the risk to talk to her.
The Missing Place is tension-filled with interesting characters and an unusual setting. A good book to read this winter.