The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert

Friday, May 6, 2011


The Coffins of Little Hope
I still use a manual typewriter (a 1953 Underwood portable, in a robin’s-egg blue) because the soft pip-pip-pip of the typing of keys on a computer keyboard doesn’t quite fit with my sense of what writing sounds like. I need the hard metal clack, and I need those keys to sometimes catch so I can reach in and untangle them, turning my fingers inky. Without slapping the return or turning the cylinder to release the paper with a sharp whip, without all that minor havoc, I feel I’ve paid no respect to the dead. What good is an obituary if it can be written so peaceably, so undisturbingly, in the dark of night?

In a little town in Nebraska, octogenarian Esther Myles, or Essie or simply S writes obituaries for the town newspaper, the County Paragraph - not unemotional little sentences listing the dead, but very personal notes characterizing the dead person well enough to provide a nice semblance of who or how the person was alive. Her grandson, Doc, owns the newspaper that was originally started by her father. Doc's sister, Ivy, who ran away with her college professor, when her daughter Tiffany was seven, has just returned back to the household. In this sleepy town, around the same time, a girl named Lenore goes missing, or is at least claimed to have gone missing. Lenore's mother, Daisy, stumbles into a church gathering one day and wails that her daughter has been kidnapped by her lover. As news about Lenore going missing grips the town, there is another major event happening - the publishing of the eleventh and last book of the immensely popular Miranda and Desiree series.

I'm going to be in the minority here, but this book just didn't do it for me. I'm guessing it's not because of the book itself but rather related to my reading experience, because the book in itself has elements that I usually enjoy. The Coffins of Little Hope is more a set of stories strung together than a holistic plotline coursing through the pages. I usually enjoy such books - I find them closest to the experience of life, which is never singular but rather several strands merging and veining together. But for some reason, when I started this book, I had the assumption that this is going to be all about Essie and the missing girl, Lenore, so the first diversion in the storyline had me very confused about the relevance of events.

At the core, this book is about a small town and how it responds to suddenly being in the spotlight. There are several micro and macro events happening, and Essie has convenient access to them all. There's the missing girl, the publication of the much-awaited book, and then later, someone reading from a purported copy of the same yet-to-be-released book - a lot of things that suddenly catapult the town to the minds of people across the country. The whole mystery of the missing girl delves around the public confusion over whether the girl really existed or if she was a figment of Daisy's imagination. I'm not sure I managed to figure that out at the end. Daisy didn't seem to want to try and help the police establish Lenore's identity, instead she takes offence at the mistrust and chooses not to beg for help.

There are a lot of flashbacks in this story. Or rather, stories from a time that's not current are being shared as well, in a non-flashback manner. I found that occasionally confusing my timeline. It didn't help that I was reading this book mostly on my phone, and I found it annoying having to go back and recollect when certain events were happening. I wish I could reread this one on print, maybe I will some day. (I have previously read and loved a few books I read on my phone - The Good Daughter, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, so this book just wasn't meant for phone reading.)

I thought the author's writing style was wonderful - a very NY Times-worthy writing style. I loved his many descriptions and narrative devices that he used. The Miranda and Desiree books that are often referenced sound very much like the Harry Potter series, in that the whole world is waiting for the last book, the publication of the books is a very controlled and secret affair, the author is slightly reclusive letting the books do the talking, the storm in the fanfiction kingdom where many have attempted to write the events of the last book. The similarities were deliberate and I could actually imagine the author having a quiet chuckle as he wrote those passages. I loved how they were worked into the story. The books' author, Muscatine, is another principle character of the book, as he corresponds with Essie (secretly) through letters. I found him increasingly mysterious, the more I read of him.

There are a lot of quirky characters in this book and several plotlines running. The one I most wanted to keep reading about was Essie's own family troubles. Essie and her great-granddaughter, Tiff, had such a wonderful relationship that it made me wish for someone like Essie in my life. Tiff's struggle with adapting to her "new" life with Ivy was delicately handled. I'm sure there's so much to enjoy in this book, I just felt there was too much happening and in the end I couldn't get much closure. I do recommend this book however, because it really is an interesting read. Just don't do it on your smart phone. It's also not the kind of book you should read snippets at a time. Both could ruin your experience, as it did mine.

I received this book for free for review from Unbridled Books via NetGalleyThe Coffins of Little Hope was released on April 19th. Check it out on the publisher's pageGoodreadsAmazon and Barnes and Noble.


10 comments:

Bibliophilebythesea said...

I had high hopes for this book. Sorry it wasn't a perfect read for you.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

Sorry it didn't work for you. I don't think I would enjoy a book on my phone and could see how that would take away from the reading experience.

Misha said...

The premise seems like something I would like too. I am sorry that the book didn't work for you. A confusing timeline can be such a headache, especially when you have to go back and re-read what happened before.

hcmurdoch said...

This book sounds like it could be really good, it's too bad it didn't really do it for you. Sometimes too many stories in one just dilutes all of it, which is a shame

Nina Happyendings said...

Sorry that it wasn't for you. I have the same experience with another book that I have read. There was too much going on and so many characters that it got confusing. Also I just wasn't fully grabbed with all of the different stories involved. ;) Great review. I do love the cover of this book.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm sad that I didn't enjoy it better either. But I know many who did. I hope you like it more than I did.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree. I had to learn about it the hard way. Though there were other books I read on my phone that I loved. I guess I should just not settle for reading couple of pages at a time and invest more reading time.

Athira / Aths said...

I know. There were times when I just wasn't sure if I was in the present or the past. Or which kid I was reading about or which mother. It got me mad.

Athira / Aths said...

 I agree - I wish there wasn't so much happening, but I might be disappointed with less as well, since it's more a character-oriented book.

Athira / Aths said...

The cover of this one is fab! I guess some books would just do that. I should just hope for less of such books.