Book Quote:

“And this very book began not as a book but as an obit of a kind for a little girl who up and went missing one simple summer day. On this girl we pinned all hopes of our dying town’s salvation. The longer we went without seeing her even once, the more and more dependent upon her we grew. She became our leading industry, her sudden nothingness a valuable export, and we considered changing the name of our town to hers; we would live in the town of ‘Lenore’. Is it any wonder we refused to give up hope despite all the signs that she’d never existed, that she’d never been anybody – never, not even before she supposedly vanished?”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (MAY 1, 2011)

The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert is a small gem. Its multi-plotted story takes place in a small Nebraska town with characters who make this novel special. The town is peopled by a lot of old folks. Essie, the protagonist, is 83 and the novel is told in first person from her point of view. “We were all of us quite old, we death merchants – the town’s undertaker (seventy-eight), his organist (sixty-seven)…the florist (her freezer overgrown with lilies, eighty-one). The cemetery’s caretaker, who procured for the goth high schoolers who partied among the tombstones, was the enfant terrible among us (at an immature fifty-six.”

Essie writes obituaries for the town’s local paper which is owned by her grandson, Doc. She feels very close to the people she writes about and wants to know as much about them as possible, both the good and the bad. Essie had a son who died in an automobile accident many years ago, leaving two children – Essie’s grandson Doc and her granddaughter Ivy. Essie also has a teenaged great granddaughter named Tess with whom she is very close. Doc has raised Tess for most of her life as Ivy ran off to Paris with one of her professors when Tess was seven. As the novel opens, Ivy has just returned to town and her relationship with Tess is tenuous.

There are two very eventful things going on in town. The first is the alleged disappearance of a child named Lenore. No one has ever seen or met Lenore. Lenore’s mother, Daisy, says that her boyfriend Elvis abducted her. Supposedly, Lenore was born at home and home schooled. That’s the reason that no one has ever seen her and no records of her birth exist. The town is split into those who believe Lenore existed and was abducted and those who think that Lenore is merely a figment of Daisy’s imagination. Is Daisy delusional or has there really been a crime committed? Much of the book focuses on these questions.

The other big event in town is top secret. There is a young adult book series based on two characters named Miranda and Desiree. Think Harry Potter in terms of popularity. The publishers want a very out of the way place to print it and they choose this small Nebraska town. The paper that the book is printed on is very special. It contains grass seeds and herbs so that its “greenness” won’t harm the environment. The author, William Muscatine, has a correspondence with Essie that is top secret. They are pen pals and friends of a sort.

As word of the abduction gets out and travels around the country, people gather in town to park and camp all around Daisy’s ranch which is called “The Crippled Eighty.” These folks are known as Lenorians. It becomes somewhat cultish and these folks form a tight and closed circle around Daisy. They are hangers-on and try to keep other people away from Daisy.

Meanwhile, Ivy and Tess are trying to rebuild their relationship, which is a very difficult task. Tess had lived with Doc for the past six years and decides to move in with Ivy which hurts Doc’s feelings. Essie tries not to get too involved in their decisions. Tess often comes to Essie for advice and support. Essie and Tess have one of those special relationships that is comprised of love and mutual respect.

Essie attempts to solve the mystery of Lenore and also protect the secrecy of the book printing. She manages to get herself into different sorts of trouble and ends up with a real crisis on her hands. The characters in this gentle and compassionate book truly speak to the reader. In other hands this book would seem too light but Shaffert does an expert job of making the reader care and want to keep reading in order to find out what happens next. He does a good job of poking fun at the publishing industry, painting vivid portraits of dysfunctional families, and showing the sensibilities of a small town. This is quite an enjoyable book, one that leaves a sweet and mellow feeling with me. This is the first book I’ve read by Schaffert but I plan to check out his others.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 14 readers
PUBLISHER: Unbridled Books; 1 edition (April 19, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Timothy Schaffert
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt

An interview with the author

MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another good read set in Nebraska:

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos


May 1, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Reading Guide, US Midwest

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