Friday, May 27, 2011

The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert — 272 pgs

The Coffins of Little HopeIn a small Nebraska town, news is being made. The whole town is alight with excitement over being the chosen location to print and publish the last in the series of one of the most popular and premiere children’s books of the century, with everyone atwitter over just how it will all turn out. As the resident obituary writer in the town, Essie Myles is no stranger to strange and unusual circumstances, but when a young girl named Lenore goes missing, the situation gets more and more odd. It seems the town is not entirely convinced that little Lenore even existed, let alone has gone missing, and when her mother Daisy can’t produce the evidence that the town so desperately needs in order to begin searching for the young girl, Essie takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, Essie’s thirteen year old great-granddaughter, Tiff, is going through a difficult time due to the reappearance of her mother after several years of abandonment, and Essie’s grandson Doc is strangling under the weight of his job as the editor of the local paper. Is Lenore really only a figment in the imagination of a woman seeking attention, or is there more to the story? And what will become of Essie and her brood as the foundations of their family are realigned and resituated? These are the questions that underpin the strangely melodious tale of The Coffins of Little Hope, the witty and intriguing new novel from Timothy Schaffert.

This was a story that had many different levels and components, all working in harmony together very nicely. Schaffert gives us the tale of a town that is alight with all sorts of excitement and fervor, and hones in on one family and their reaction to it all. Aside from the children’s book being published and the mania it brings to the little town, there is the Lenore contingency that threatens to overrun its borders and has in fact become national news. As Essie ponders her family’s troubles, she also decides that she will be the one to get Daisy to admit that Lenore is nothing but a ghost from inside her own mind. But Daisy is having none of this and continues to assert Lenore’s existence ardently. At first I thought it strange that no one in the town was searching for the young girl, but then I came to understand the logistics of the problem. Too many people surrounding Daisy had reason to believe that the little girl was only a lonely woman’s way to get the attention that had been denied her for so long, and as such, they never took Lenore’s plight very seriously at all.

Of course, the town was not above keeping the spotlight turned on the Lenore case for the notoriety that it won them, and as the paper ran feature after feature on the case, I began to see that the town was milking the Lenore situation for all it was worth. Doc and Essie could especially be blamed for this, and as more and more strange people and circumstances began to surround Daisy, the town grew more and more embedded in her story. The mystery of whether or not Lenore even existed was constantly turned over and over in the narrative, the townsfolk choosing to remain sceptical and non-committal, even to its final conclusion. As Lenore’s absence lengthens, her strange circumstance draws people towards Daisy in a sort of religious fanaticism and Daisy becomes the acolyte of a new kind of church that lives to pay homage to her missing daughter.

The other half of the book focuses on the series of children’s books that are being printed in the town and how these books have a particular importance in the life of Essie and her family. When Essie begins to secretly correspond with the author of the books, she discovers that all is not what it seems with him. As the books go to print, there is some anxiety that parts of the story will be leaked; a situation that causes Doc to become very nervous, as he is also the owner of the press that prints the books. The possibility of the particulars of the book being leaked is not Doc’s only concern, for as the sole guardian of Tiff, he must now step aside when her mother comes back into the picture, a fact that disheartens and weighs on him. Meanwhile, Essie is struggling with not only her family troubles, but with the realities of her work as an obituary writer, feeling that her time in this particular career is almost over. Schaffert delivers these intertwined stories with a stylistically lush yet somehow sparse narrative, deliciously serving it all up with a quirky style and smooth dialogue.

Though I wasn’t sure what to make of this book when I first picked it up, I did end up loving it. It has all the classic hallmarks of a great and invigorating read, and I grew to be particularly fond of the quirky stories and characters that populated the pages. It’s the kind of book that’s easy to relax into and let the story wash over you, and though things are not neatly tied up in the end, there’s room for a great deal of speculation when it comes to how thing turn out for Daisy, Essie, and her family. A gem of read that will please even the most picky readers. Recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

21 comments:

Audra said...

What a strange sounding story! I'm totally intrigued tho -- you read some of the most interesting books, Heather!

Suko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suko said...

Zibilee, this sounds interesting on many levels. Excellent review! I hadn't heard of this book before visiting your blog.

Jenna (Literature and a Lens) said...

Sounds like a wonderfully complex tale. I love books that revolve around quirky small towns. I'm glad the author was able to manage all the different plot lines effectively. Many books try to take on too much and just end up confusing, so I was afraid this one would be the same. Now, it will be going on my list. Great review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

A book about books sounds like great fun!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

The summary of this one didn't jump out at me but when you said that you ended up loving it I became a little intrigued. :) Perhaps I'll pick it up sometime!

Jenners said...

I'm still not sure what to make of it. It seems like one you have to read to fully understand.

Vasilly said...

Wow! I think I need to read this to find out if Lenore was even real! I've seen this book around but had no idea what it was about. You wrote another great review.

TheBookGirl said...

For a book under 300 pages, there sure is alot going on here. From your enthusiastic review, tho, it seems as though the author is able to juggle all the storylines neatly. I'm not sure if this one is for me, but, like your previous commenter, I am intrigued now to know if Lenore is real.

Sandy Nawrot said...

There is alot going on there! Holy cow! I've heard good things about this one, but I must admit that I'm left feeling a little confused about it all.

Marie said...

Sounds wonderfully strange and fascinating! Great review!

Meghan said...

This sounds like such an intriguing book - an unusual story but since you loved it, I think I might too.

mike draper said...

Just stopped by and read this review. It certainly was descriptive and informative. Very well done.
Mike Draper

Steph said...

This sounds like a really interesting little novel! I read a book that also focused on the importance of books for young children not too long ago (The Borrower) which I'll have a review up for soon. It was also rather quirky (just wait 'til you hear the premise), so you might want to check it out at some point. I'll be keeping my eyes open for this one!

Jenny said...

Sounds quirky but fun to get to know all the characters in this town!

Nymeth said...

This sounds very very odd, but in the best possible way! Adding it to my wishlist.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I so want to read this one. I liked what I read in early reviews, and you just confirmed my suspicions that it would be good. Great review.

Amy said...

Timothy Schaffert's book sounds quite fascinating and entertaining!I've read some great reviews of it but none gave me as good an understanding of the different story threads happening at the same time as yours! I realize why this book seems a strange, somewhat confusing but also unique and captivating story! I'm more interested than ever in reading this book and discovering the truth about Lenore and reading what happens with Tiff, Essie and poor Daisy. And ven if things aren't neatly resolved in the end, I still feel this is a book I want to be sure I read!

Thank you for a fantastic review, Heather!

Geosi said...

Seems to be a wonderfully woven tale. I also like stories with quirky characters. Wonderful review.

Mandy (The Well-Read Wife) said...

I loved this one too! I especially loved Schaffert's descriptions of the farm and the town they all lived in.

I also really enjoyed Essie's POV.

Such a great book!

Lisa said...

Yea! I'm so glad you liked this one so much! Quirky really does describe so much of this book to a T.

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