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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coffins of Little Hope

Coffins of Little Hope
Timothy Schaffert
Unbridled Books, 2011

Essie, an octogenarian obituary writer for her family's small town newspaper, narrates this story about family in a small town. When a young country girl is reported to be missing, perhaps whisked away by an itinerant aerial photographer, Essie stumbles onto the story of her life. Or, maybe it’s the story of her death, considering Essie’s occupation. The problem is that no one knows if the girl actually exists at all – some in town believe it all could be simply a hoax, or a delusion, the child and child-thief invented from the desperate imagination of a lonely, lovelorn woman. Either way, the story of the girl reaches far and wide, igniting controversy, attracting curiosity-seekers and cult worshippers from all over the country to this dying rural town. And then it is revealed that the long awaited final book of an infamous series of teen gothic novels is being secretly printed on the newspaper's presses, but someone has stolen a copy and reads it aloud every night on the radio.

A lot is going on in this novel. At first several seemingly unrelated events provide confusing, albeit amusing, reading. Not only is the supposed kidnapping occurring during the top secret novel printing, Essie’s own great-granddaughter is trying to find her way in the world after being abandoned by her mother, who suddenly shows up wanting to be a parent again. Essie is caught in the middle of each of these scenarios:

1. She doesn’t know whether she should write the obituary of the kidnapped child because no one knows if the child even existed let alone abducted;
2. She is friends with the author of the blockbuster novel yet her family’s business is the one that allowed a copy to be stolen;
3. She’s stuck between the needs of her great-granddaughter and her two grandchildren – one who has raised his niece as his own daughter and his cousin, who wants to do the right thing after years of neglect and omission.

Essie is a likeable character, as is most of the other characters in the novel, but I think there is too much going on here to make the novel as successful as it could be. If you enjoy a slightly amusing elderly narrator and can overlook a crazy mishmash of plot developments, you may want to give it a try.


Other books by this author:
The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God (2005)
Devils in the Sugar Shop (2006)

Other titles you may enjoy:

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin (2005)
The disappearance of nine-year-old Katie Mackey, the daughter of the most affluent family in a small Indiana town, while riding her bicycle to town to return some library books, has profound repercussions for her entire family.

The Sand Castle by Rita Mae Brown (2008)
In August 1952, seven-year-old Nickel, her mother, aunt, and cousin Leroy head off for a day at the seashore, but Nickel's cruel teasing of her cousin and tensions between her mother and aunt provide a life-changing lesson in the joys and sorrows of family relationships.

Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages by Sara Rath (2005)
Hannah Swann is a Wisconsin poetry professor who suddenly inherits a rustic lakeside resort in the north woods run by her enigmatic prodigal uncle Hal. Leaving her work and an affair with a married man behind in Madison, Hannah heads north, where an expected bit of paperwork and a few days quickly turn into months of hard work with disastrous results.

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