Essie Myles has written obituaries for the local paper since she was in her early teens. Now in her eighties, she prides herself on finding the kernel of truth about the deceased person rather than repeating the usual platitudes. In a small town where everyone is tightly connected, unearthing anything new is a challenge. But all of a sudden, there's a flurry of newsworthy activity in this out of the way Nebraska town. Essie has been asked to write the obituary of Lenore, a young girl who has gone missing. Daisy, Lenore's mother, wants the obituary so that Lenore stays in the forefront of the nation's consciousness. We are, after all, a nation obsessed with loss, wallowing in schadenfreude. But as time has gone on and Lenore's disappearance has become less current, less newsworthy and captivating, questions start to emerge about just whether Lenore ever existed or if she is simply the creation of a lonely woman looking for attention.
While Essie is following the story of the girl who might or might not have been, her own family is facing major changes and upheavals. Her grandson Doc is thinking about closing the long-time, family-owned newspaper. The only thing having kept it solvent in the last years is his contract to be amongst the small, remote printing presses chosen to print the last few books of the very popular, catastrophe-driven, YA series of Miranda and Desiree books. As the drama surrounding Lenore's disappearance grips the town and nation, the last book of the series is rolling off the presses, adding to the mystique of the little dying town. And Essie's granddaughter rolls back into town to stay, coming back to resume raising daughter Tiffany, who has been happily living with Doc for many years. Change in life is inevitable, for the Myles family, for the newspaper, and for the town.
There is a dark, macabre thread running underneath the surface of this novel but it is so winsomely presented that it is completely appealing and addictive reading, much in the way that the Lemony Snicket books (which must be a source of inspiration for the Miranda and Desiree books in the novel) are. The characters are well-developed and eccentric but charming in their eccentricities. They are people trying to hold on, to find the right course, and to face reality, even if it is one they have to construct for themselves. The economic viability of unknown small towns, the complicated ties of family, the ways in which jobs become or define a person, voice and imagination, a skewering of the American taste for the sensational, and the surprises that life hold are all touched on as the multiple and intricate plot threads twist and weave together. Short, punchy chapters, pithy characters, and a plot unlike any other I've read make this a quick, entertaining, and completely worthwhile read.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.