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THREE TO SEE

O'Nan the contrarian

(Christopher Capozziello for the new york times)
December 2, 2008
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Connecticut author Stewart O'Nan is the literary equivalent of what baseball calls a spray hitter, the type of batter who can drive a ball onto the green between the chalk lines in any part of the park to get on base. He would understand that reference, given that one of his many books, coauthored with Stephen King, is "Faithful," which recounts the magical '04 Red Sox season from the perspective of two exceedingly nervous fans. (The book has, as O'Nan says, quite an ending.)

In 20 years, O'Nan has written a number of novels, including "Last Night at the Lobster" and "The Good Wife," a short story collection, "In the Walled City," and two works of nonfiction, including "The Circus Fire." In that book, O'Nan shifted gears, researching old police reports and newspaper clippings and interviewing witnesses to tell the story of a 1944 Hartford blaze in a Ringling Brothers tent that killed more than 160 people.

As a writer, O'Nan often seeks fresh challenges in terms of tone and form, once telling an interviewer that "No two consecutive books that I have worked on have been alike." That approach might not help his sales with everyday fans who often expect an author's next book to be like the last one, but it does deepen his craft.

Like his friend King, O'Nan's fiction is often grounded in the unnerving, but it's an everyday, this-could-happen-to-you kind of horror, filled with recognizable people and places. His new novel, "Songs for the Missing," concerns the disappearance of a teenage girl, and how that loss prompts a family to unravel. Here's a sample, as family members agonizingly await news of the girl named Kim, their focus always on the phone: "Then there were the hang-ups, dozens of them, some in the middle of the night. They leaned close to the machine, listening through the layer of tape hiss for any hint that it might be Kim."

O'Nan will discuss his work tonight at 6 at the Boston Public Library, Copley Square. (For a Web exclusive review of "Songs for the Missing" by writer Don Lee, visit www.boston.com/ae/books.) JIM CONCANNON

IN IRAQ, SECURITY FOR HIRE

Washington Post reporter (and former Globe writer) Steve Fainaru returns to town to discuss his new book, "Big Boy Rules," about the violent, shadowy, largely unregulated world of mercenaries aiding US forces in Iraq. Fainaru speaks at the Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, tonight at 7.

EINSTEIN'S PUZZLED HEIRS

Louisa Gilder chose the difficult task of bringing to life a key problem in quantum physics, the long hunt by researchers to explain the strange, seemingly telepathic connection between particles. She'll talk about her new book about this scientific treasure hunt, "The Age of Entanglement," on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Harvard Book Store.

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