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The Coffins of Little Hope
by Timothy Schaffert


An octogenarian writing obituaries is a rather unusual heroine for a novel, but that’s Essie for you. Her grandson, Doc, is the publisher of their small town’s newspaper, and for decades she’s been pounding out death notices for all the locals. Their rural little paper has recently been getting a lot of attention, thanks to the disappearance of the daughter of a resident who may have been kidnapped by an aerial photographer named Elvis. However, the lack of physical evidence for the girl leads many to suspect that her existence is at best the delusion of a lonely woman or at worst, a bizarre hoax pulled for attention’s sake. Things only get more complicated when this same woman begins reading excerpts from a not-yet-published manuscript for the next book in a wildly popular (think Harry Potter) young adult fantasy series over a CB radio. As Essie and Doc try to puzzle out exactly what’s going on, their personal lives are complicated by the return of Ivy, Doc’s sister, who dumped her daughter with them and ran away with a French professor several years before. Ivy wants her daughter back, now that her lover has returned to his wife, but her daughter is understandably reluctant.

I want to start out by saying that this novel is beautifully written. The ornate, rather flowery way in which the tale is told does rather mimic the way a professional storyteller might talk, especially if she’s spend many years writing obituaries. This in turn created a very pleasant and comfortable narration that lets the reader slide right into an old woman’s memories.

Unfortunately, once we’ve climbed into Essie’s head and strapped on a pair of sensible granny shoes, the road to travel is one that meanders pointlessly. Nothing happens. The investigators tracking Elvis and the missing child find nothing. They neither prove that this girl, Lenore, exists nor that Daisy, the child’s mother, invented her as a cure for her lovelorn heart. The story isn’t drawn to any sort of substantive conclusion; it’s as if the author one day realized he’d met a certain word count and decided to call it a day.

I think that the reader’s enjoyment of the book will directly tie into why you read in the first place. If you’re the sort of reader who reads for the sake of language, for pretty phrases and delicate descriptions that capture a moment just so, you’ll enjoy The Coffins of Little Hope. If you’re a reader who likes strong, distinctive characterization you might like the narrator of this book; old Essie can certainly hold her own. But if you like your plot to be fairly neat or your book to have a purpose beyond “Oh, that sounds nice” then you’ll likely find this book to be a frustrating and unsatisfying venture.

3.5 out of 5 stars


To read more about The Coffins of Little Hope, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

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