The Coffins of Little Hope

The Coffins of Little Hope

by Timothy Schaffert

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An 83-year-old obituary writer for a struggling, small-town newspaper finds herself embroiled in intrigue, stumbling onto the story of her career: a country girl has gone missing, perhaps whisked away by an itinerant aerial photographer. Or so it seems. It all could be simply a hoax, or a delusion, the child and child-thief invented from the desperate imagination of a lonely, lovelorn farm woman. The fragility of childhood, the strength of family, and the powerful rumor mills of small, rural towns—The Coffins of Little Hope tells the story of characters caught in the intricately woven webs of myth, legend and deception.

Esther Myles, an obituary writer in her eighties working for a struggling small-town newspaper, finds herself embroiled in intrigue, stumbling upon the story of her career as the story of the girl reaches far and wide, igniting controversy, attracting curiosity-seekers from all over the country to this dying rural town. And what do the gothic tales of Miranda and Desiree, the storybook sisters of Muscatine’s series of novels, play in this town’s survival and in the enduring mystery of Lenore?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609530686
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,060,560
Product dimensions: 2.30(w) x 3.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Timothy Schaffert is editor-in-chief of The Reader, Omaha's alternative newsweekly.

Read an Excerpt

THE Coffins of Little Hope

a novel
By Timothy Schaffert


Copyright © 2011 Timothy Schaffert
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60953-040-2

Chapter One

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 fingertips 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?

Though my name does not begin with an S, my byline has always been S Myles because I'm Esther, but more often Essie, or Ess, and thus S (just S, no period) on the page.

Chapter Two

Our town, statistically, was the oldest it had ever been, population-wise. At eighty-three, I was years and years past a reasonable retirement age, but I'd never been so busy. We were all of us quite old, we death merchants—the town's undertaker (seventy-eight), his organist (sixty-seven), the desairologist (desairology: dressing and ironing the hair of the deceased, manicuring their nails, rouging their cheeks with a simulated blush of heat; seventy-three), the florist (her freezer overgrown with lilies; eighty-one). The cemetery's caretaker, who procured for the goth high schoolers who partied among the tombstones, was the enfant terrible among us (at an immature fifty-six).

I'd chronicled the town's dead since dropping out of the eighth grade to work for my father, the publisher of the County Paragraph, a newspaper eventually to be run by my grandson, Doc (called Doc for his professorial carriage, in three-piece suits and neckties, and for his use of overly brainy words in his editorials, words lifted from a brittle-edged, outdated thesaurus in his top desk drawer). My first obit had not been meant as an obit but rather as an essay about my mother, who'd died giving birth to me. Throughout my childhood, I'd studied the sewing room my father had left untouched, and I'd stitched together a portrait of her based on notes she'd scribbled in the margins of recipe cards ("orange peel works too"), and on the particular velvet dress—with a patchwork of mismatched buttons—that had been left unfinished on the dressmaker's dummy, and on the postcards she'd had the bad habit of starting but not finishing (Dear Millie [her sister], Just a fast, quick, short, unimportant note so I can get this into the mail before the carrier comes— then nothing else).

You would think a woman in her eighties wouldn't cry for her mommy, and I don't really, it's really for the little girl that I was that I cry after I've had three or four whiskeys of an evening. But the weeping is pleasure. When I cry like a baby, my aches go, and I feel skinned, refreshed afterward. At that moment I'm happy to be sad and wish I could be so melancholy for hours. But it's fleeting. Sobriety is quick, and the night too long, and as I lie awake with sleeplessness, nervous from drink, I wish I hadn't drunk a drop.

Chapter Three

And this very book began not as a book but as an obit of a kind for a little girl who up and went missing one simple summer day. On this girl we pinned all hopes of our dying town's salvation. The longer we went without seeing her even once, the more and more dependent upon her we grew. She became our leading industry, her sudden nothingness a valuable export, and we considered changing the name of our town to hers; we would live in the town of Lenore. Is it any wonder that we refused to give up hope despite all the signs that she'd never existed, that she'd never been anybody—never, not even before she supposedly vanished?

By the time Daisy, the mother of that vaporous Lenore, finally called me to her farmhouse, after all the weeks of bickering and debate that enlivened our town yet ruined its soul, after most of the events of this book had passed, no one anywhere was any longer waiting for word of Lenore's death. It was the last Thursday of January, and the week had moved from an unseasonable thaw into a bitter chill that pained your teeth as you leaned into the wind. I went, alone, as requested, intending to help Daisy, as if plotting to steal her away from her own delusions. For some of us, Lenore was nothing but a captivating hoax, while for others, she was a grim tragedy, a mystery cynically left unsolved.

You were either one of the ones who truly believed in Lenore or you were one of the ones who believed in the same way you believe in the trickling stigmata of a plastic Virgin, with a trust in magic and miracle mostly for the thrill of it. Or you were one of the ones with no faith at all. Those were the ones, the ones with disbelief, who benefited the most, who made the most money on the sad pilgrims who skulked in and out of our town.

Some of you may say I'm just as bad as the worst of the people who've exploited the summer, flail, and winter of Lenore, that I've played this story like an accordion for the purposes of melodrama, squeezing and stretching, inflating and deflating scenes and events at will. You'll say I wasn't everywhere; you'll say there's no way I can know all that I've depicted. But I stand behind all the truths in this story of deception. Maybe because I've so long looked so old, even when I was relatively young, that people feel they can be revealing around me, that they can unbutton their lips and let slip intimate facts and trust that I have the maturity to keep my mouth shut.

Chapter Four

What will you most remember? It's a question I've asked of the grieving hundreds and hundreds of times. The people I ask almost always take a deep breath and exhale. "What will I most remember?" they most always say, looking up and off as they're thinking back. Their first responses, which come too quickly, simply to fill the silence in the room, are unexceptional: her infectious smile, his playful wink, her bubbly laugh, his gruff demeanor, which disguised his sweet, soft heart. But here's what I do: I write nothing down. I give them absolutely nothing, as if they've not yet said a word. I sit, my skinny legs crossed beneath my long skirt, my steno pad atop my knee, the point of my pen pressed on the paper but not moving, not even to doodle. They know that I know they can do better than that. To please me, then, they see past their grief and breathe vivid life back into their beloveds, in idiosyncratic detail.

What will they most remember about me? Will it be the cherry cough drops I constantly popped and the tart, antiseptic scent they gave my breath and the noise they made knocking against my teeth (my death rattle, my great-granddaughter lovingly calls it)? Because, you see, I've always been nervous among all the despair. And the older I've grown, the more nervous I've become.

Once upon a time, I could ease into a house of mourning as inconspicuously as a neighbor dropping off a coffee cake. An obit writer should not, by nature, be a memorable visitor. But when my crooked shadow falls across the doorstep, people likely think I've come grim-reaping. My hair is snow-white, and I'm quite tall, my head only just clearing some of the shorter of the doorjambs, even with an old-lady slouch I've had since girlhood. As a gangly teen, I thought it made me lady-like to curl in on myself. I thought it demure to lean forward into invisibility. All the admonishment I took from my concerned aunties for letting my hair fall in my face (flirty-like, one aunt said with disdain) failed to get me to straighten up, but I did take to wrenching it all back into a tight ponytail with silk ribbons, and I do still twist my knotted braids atop my head and riddle them with combs and clips and, my favorite, an ostentatious dragonfly hairpin bejeweled with colored glass. It's how people know me, for better or worse.

Chapter Five

The January afternoon I was summoned to Daisy's farm, on the pretense of writing Lenore's obit, Daisy welcomed me in and brushed the snow off my disgraceful fur coat, a mink that had long been on its last legs. She helped me to unravel the wool scarf I'd wrapped around my head, fussing with it when it caught on the wings of my dragonfly hairpin. She stuffed the scarf into a sleeve of my coat and hung the coat on the corner of the open closet door.

We sat at the kitchen table with cups of coffee, and after she told me stories of Lenore's childhood, all stories I'd heard before, she poured more coffee into my cup, though I'd yet to drink a sip. The coffee smelt burnt somehow, and it spilled over the brim. I held my hand above the rising steam in hopes of nursing my stiff joints.

Daisy pulled a thin cardigan tight over her shoulders. She wore a wispy blue dress meant for summer. She had a craggy, haggard beauty, all her troubles having taken their toll. Even sitting still and shivering, she had a bitter edge, a low-level fierceness. Middle age had rendered Daisy wasted and lovely both.

Daisy bit at the dry skin of her lip.

"Your lip's bleeding, sweetie," I said.

Daisy took the tissue tucked into the cuff of her sweater and dabbed at her lip. She pulled the tissue away to check the spot of blood, then dabbed again, then checked again. She kept dabbing and checking until the spots of blood shrank away.

"I know you're not going to print what I've told you," Daisy said, gesturing toward my notes in my steno pad, making a little scribbling motion in the air.

I removed my reading spectacles, partly for effect—like a doctor pained by the diagnosis he's delivering—and partly because of the glasses' weight on the bridge of my nose. I set them atop my notebook. "No," I said, "we won't print it." I took off my watch, heavy on my wrist. How many more winters until my bones simply shattered beneath the weight of my skin? I lifted the dragonfly hairpin from the knotted braid atop my head. The insect's hooked legs had felt snagged in my hair, yanking at my scalp with my every nod. "I won't be writing an obituary for Lenore."

"Then what'd you come here for?" Daisy said, looking up at me with genuine interest.

"I thought it might help you," I said. "I want to help you." Help her, I thought, sneering to myself, even then. We were the ones who'd done all the damage, every last one of us. How could any of us help? I unclasped the cluster of rhinestones clipped to my left earlobe, a cumbersome piece of costume jewelry, and placed it among my other things. I hear best with that ear. "Daisy, I think you're hurt, is what I think. I think your heart is broken. Do you think my heart's never been broken? I know what such a thing does. If there's anything I know from this life, I know what heartbreak does."

Daisy said nothing, only stared at my undrunk cup of coffee. I then felt compelled to drink it. I leaned over to sip off the excess before lifting the cup. The coffee tasted humid, like the smell of a dishcloth left in the sink.

"Okay, I'll tell you the truth, Mrs. Myles," Daisy said.

"Please," I said, putting my chin in my hand and leaning forward, my good ear out.

"I lied," she said. "I don't really think Lenore is dead. I wanted you to write her obituary, and to print it, to wake everybody up. People would be disgusted by it, an obit for Lenore; I know they would. And they'd care about her again. Because, Mrs. Myles, I know he didn't kill her. He loved her. That's why he took her. She's somewhere alive, and afraid."

Finally a tear rolled down her cheek and over the pout of her lower lip. I was unmoved. Maybe I didn't want to help her at all. Maybe I just wanted to hear a confession, and I wanted to be the one to tell the truth to others. If I live to be a hundred, I'll still have this infantile need to know everything before everyone else.

None of this was an effort toward closure. It seemed just another beginning in a story that was all beginnings. And that was probably why my little town couldn't get enough of it. We were so tired of endings.

Chapter Six

But if we were to begin at the beginning, we would need to begin, strangely enough, with a book, the eleventh book in an eleven-book series. Many of you have read it at least once by now, whether aloud to a child at bedtime or simply to yourself. The eleven-book saga took years to unfold, invoking nightmares among generations of children. Many otherwise stable men and women well into their forties still feel struck with the heebie-jeebies when they recall the gothic predicaments of the two sisters, Miranda and Desiree, the innocent wards of Rothgutt's Asylum for Misguided Girls.

The eleventh book was long anticipated. We were finally to learn the fate of Miranda and Desiree, who'd spent the first ten books longing for their mother to come and collect them from the dank, infested halls of Rothgutt's. Even if you had never read a word of the Miranda-and-Desirees, it was impossible not to be versed in the language of the books, and their characters and places, and to be curious about how it all might end.

The first Miranda-and-Desiree books were morbid curiosities with small print runs, but eventually mad housewives in Middle America challenged the books at their local libraries. The books worked their way up the national banned books lists; they went up in smoke in bonfires fueled by zealots. When one First Lady took as her cause a campaign against violence in children's entertainment and censured the Miranda-and-Desirees for their inappropriate carnival of calamities, it was as if the publisher had rigged the lottery.

And that was how my family's newspaper, the County Paragraph, came to use its press to print a portion of the Miranda-and-Desiree novels. The series' publisher was a company in New York called Henceforth Books, and it was seeking presses in obscure parts of the country where it could covertly print the novels, avoiding the security breaches that had led to thieved copies, details leaked, plots spoiled. Executives of Henceforth consulted a Washington Post article called "The Last Gasps of the Small-Town Chronicle," in which the Paragraph was profiled among several little-town Tribunes, Republics, Heralds, Independents, Sentinels, and Optimists.

Doc, my grandson, was unhappy with the article—he'd been painted with a broad brush as a tad hapless, having built, in the country, a massive new state-of-the-art press, anticipating contracts with other area publications—a miscalculation, as newspapers decades old, some of them more than a century old, toppled all around us with minimal fanfare.

Though Doc foolishly underbid in his determination to become one of the several small-town publishers printing the books, and foolishly expanded the press's equipment to allow for the particulars of book publishing—the binding and the sewing and the finishing of the spine—the deal did manage to keep the press from getting mauled by its own gears. And had not the books become central to our conversations about Lenore, we would likely still be keeping mum about our involvement, just as we had since we'd first contracted with Henceforth Books, our confidentiality clauses quite rigid. When the books were being printed, the factory lights were dimmed to prevent workers from seeing so much as a single word; employees were subjected to pat-downs and searches of their lunch boxes by private security firms sent in by Henceforth. Midnight trains chugged up along rarely used tracks at the back of the factory, our forklifts cradling the boxes of books into the cars, to be delivered to the world. Ali that activity, and all that employment, and none of us breathed a word of it to anyone.

CH7[ Before Lenore vanished, Daisy worked at our printing factory, though none of us really knew her. She biked to the press in the early mornings and biked away in the early afternoons. She ate her lunch on a bench in the yard in the summer, and in the winter she ate on the floor in the hallway. She wasn't beloved for her eccentricity, but she wasn't hated for it either.

A man who Daisy called Elvis, because of his Vegas-style pompadour and sexy drawl, came to the door of her farmhouse the summer that the pages of the final Miranda-and-Desiree roiled secretly through the tumblers and cylinders of our press.

He stood at her door on a night in June with his denim shirt all unsnapped down the front, offering to help her clear the farm of the branches that a tornado had ripped from the trees and tossed asunder. He stayed in Daisy's house, and he was so good with Lenore, she claimed, so good that it broke her heart to think how long Lenore had been without a father figure. He waited for Daisy every evening in the parking lot of the printing press, and they would ride back to her farm, the two of them on her bike, wobbling along. He would ask her to describe the work she did, and she'd tell him how important it was, with this particular book, to manage the flow of the ink to the inking rollers. "It's a special ink, I guess," she said; "not a drop should be wasted"—an ink concocted of blueberries and carrots and kelp.

(Continues...) ]CH7

Excerpted from THE Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert Copyright © 2011 by Timothy Schaffert. Excerpted by permission of UNBRIDLED BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Coffins of Little Hope 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Meshugenah More than 1 year ago
An interesting cast of likable characters with sensible and believable relationships. A reflection on the ways of a small town and the issues it faces to remain relevant and viable. A commentary on our inability to distinguish between the small things that matter and those that do not. For all of that, this book is not heavy-handed or heavy-hearted. It is written in a highly readable, light way from the perspective of a woman who embodies the memory of the town and its people. As other reviewers have noted, the ending does not provide "closure". It leaves us with scandals receding and life moving on, which, in my small town at least, is how we all hope it will be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was sort of enjoying the story when I got smacked in face with an abrupt ending that left me very dissatisfied. It was like the authur didnnt know how to end the book and just stopped writing.
kittycrochettwo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Esther Myles has written obituaries for her family owned town paper called the County Paragraph since dropping out of school in the eighth grade, her byline has always been S Myles. At the age of 83 she is years past retirement but is busier than she has ever been. She doesn't let her age bother her, she actually considers herself a part of a group in town she calls the death merchants, the people who are a necessary part of dealing with death, such as the undertaker, who by the way is 78, and the town florist who is 81, and the youngest of the group is the cemetery caretaker who is only 56.A couple of things propelled the tiny little town into the spotlight. The first was when the County Paragraph's printing press was chosen to print a portion of the wildly popular but also banned series called Miranda and Desiree. Because the books were banned the publisher used tiny obscure printing companies to covertly print the novels., The second big bit of news was when a girl named Lenore went missing. Her mother Daisy worked for the printing press, and had taken up with a drifter she called "Elvis" a man who took ariel pictures of peoples farms. On the day that he up and leaves Lenore comes up missing as well. Because Daisy was such an unreliable person, people began to wonder if Daisy ever really had a daughter. When Daisy finally asks Essie to write Lenore's obituary, the obituary instead becomes a story of a missing girl, who may or may not have existed.I always enjoy reading books that grasp the real flavor of the small town, and this one does just that. Just like most small towns there are always a few quirky characters who always add a bit of humor to any story.I loved that the story is told thru the voice of Essie an 83 year old woman, whose first obituary was actually an essay about her mother who died while giving birth to her. There are several secondary story lines going on in the story such as the relationship between Tiffany and her mother Ivy, as well as the relationship between Tiffany and Doc, who stepped in to take care of his niece when her mother left. I found the preacher quite interesting , while he preached against the banned books, his wife secretly read them. An intricate story, with no real closure at the end allowing the reader to reach their own conclusions.While not a compelling book that had to be read in one sitting, I still found it an enjoyable read.I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Was all set to give this book 4 stars, an elderly obituary writer, her grandson who owns and runs the newspaper but really loves magic, her grandaughter who left home 6 years previously, leaving her 7 year old daughter with her brother and a woman who may or may not be missing a child. Beautiful writng, the ending, however, wasn't. It was so underwhelming I couldn't believe it had ended.
tututhefirst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time with this book. It packs a lot into the 168 pages I had in the e-version. The writing is delightful. Like the flight of the dragonfly on the cover, it flits from character to memorable character, from scene to amusing scene, landing just long enough to hold our interest before zooming off to something else. The narrator, an 83 year old obituary writer--Esther Myles ("they call me S"), whose son Doc owns the town's publishing press tells us three or four concurrent stories. There's a women who claims her child is missing, but no one knew she had a child. Did she really exist? Was she really kidnapped? There's the secret publication of a series of YA fantasies (the latest one entitled "Coffins of Little Hope") whose existence must be kept secret, but pieces of which seem to be leaking onto the CB airwaves. There's the relationship of Ess's granddaughter to her mother, and the need for the town to do something to keep from dying on the vine.While the writing is charming, and each sentence can bring a smile, I really had a hard time following the story lines. The constant scene shift and disconnected stories had my head spinning. I think many readers will find this one worth their time, and I'm glad I read it, but I feel like I've missed something someplace, and will need to read it again, or find someone who has read it and spend an hour over a good cuppa coffee to discuss it and figure out what it's really all about.
TheWell_ReadWife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can only hope that in my eighties I will be as sharp and as formidable a woman as Essie Myles, the main character in Timothy Schaffert¿s The Coffins Of Little Hope. Essie, an obituary writer, becomes obsessed with the possible disappearance of a small child, and as a result of events surrounding the disappearance, begins corresponding with a reclusive and very famous author. The short, ¿bite-sized¿ goodness of each chapter, or part as Schaffert labels them, perfectly mimics the mind of a woman who is at ease with summing up entire lives into a few succinct paragraphs. Schaffert creates an in depth mythology surrounding the sleepy farm town and the farm, the Crippled Eighty, which the young girl, Lenore, disappeared from . The Midwest setting Shaffert creates at times evokes Donald Harington¿s impassioned descriptions of Ozark mountain towns. At his best Schaffert¿s ethereal setting ,with ghosts of the past around every corner, channels Thornton Wilder. Readers that enjoy a book with a setting as detailed as the characters that inhabit it will love The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What do an 80+ year old obituary writer, the top secret printing of the last book in a wildly popular kids' book series, and the disappearance of a young girl who may or may not have ever really existed have in common? They are all integral parts of this entertaining and quirky book. And as disparate as these things might seem, in Schaffert's skilled hands, they come together seamlessly forming a whole much more than its eccentric parts.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.
Copperskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Here¿s a book you can judge by its cover. Like a dragonfly, Schaffert's novel flits around, landing on one storyline and then quickly moving on to another.Essie Myles, an 83 year old obituary writer for her family¿s newspaper, is the charming narrator. The stories mainly revolve around a missing child and the subsequent media storm, the return of a long lost mother, and the secretive printing of a wildly popular YA book, all in a small Nebraska town struggling against the odds to survive.There¿s a lot going on here, but the touch is light and decidedly quirky.
martitia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Octogenarian Essie Myles writes obituaries for the County Paragraph, the small local newspaper and family business run by her grandson Doc, who has raised his sister¿s child Tiff since her mother abandoned her for a life in Paris. The newspaper is one of a handful of small presses chosen to print a portion of the final book in a popular young adult series about sisters Miranda and Desiree, wards of Rothgut¿s Asylum for Misguided Girls. When a local woman summons Essie to her farmhouse to talk about the disappearance of her young daughter Lenore, Essie suspects that Lenore never existed. As the County Paragraph gains celebrity for its stories on the apparent kidnapping, national media organizations converge on the town and well-wishers make a pilgrimage to the farmhouse. Within this carnival atmosphere, Essie, Doc and Tiff must face a challenge to their family life. The greatest appeal of The Coffins of Little Hope is its off-beat humor, quirky characters and a plot awash with gothic overtones. Readers will appreciate the emphasis on books and stories on the lives of the characters.
SistersGrimm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Abracadabra. Now you see it, now you don¿t. These are the words of illusion, and the illusion of words. The illusion of the written word is thematic in ¿The Coffins of Little Hope¿ by Nebraska author Timothy Schaffert. One of the ways written words manifest themselves is through eighty-three-year-old S Myles, one of the small town¿s ¿death merchants.¿ S Myles, better known as Essie, narrates the story. She also writes obituaries for the ¿The County Paragraph,¿ her hometown newspaper. In fact, she has written about the deaths of her townspeople since she dropped out of eighth grade to work for her father, who published the town¿s paper. Essie¿s son was the next publisher, until his death in a tragic car accident. Her grandson, Doc, whose dream was to open a magic store, inherited the paper and now tries to keep both the paper and the town alive.One of the ways Doc has resuscitated the ¿Paragraph¿ is by secretly publishing books in a popular series. The ¿County Paragraph¿ has been using its press to print a portion of the Miranda and Desiree novels since the 9th book. Now they are printing the 11th and final book, ¿The Coffins of Little Hope.¿ The entire town knows about the book and is in on the deception. Like magicians holding the secret to a trick, the narrator tells us, ¿none of us breathed a word to anyone.¿Written words are not the only illusion in Schaffert¿s novel. The ¿now you see it, now you don¿t¿ magic permeates this book and crosses over into reality in a number of ways, where art imitates life or life imitates the art of illusion. Disappearance by death is the strongest theme, but other disappearances are also prevalent. One example is an integral story within the story, that of Daisy and Elvis and Lenore. When Daisy¿s boyfriend Elvis leaves her without saying goodbye, Daisy reports that her daughter Lenore is missing. There seems to be very little evidence of an actual child, but the town plays a part in backing Daisy¿s story, and profits by keeping the news or possibly the illusion alive. The ¿County Paragraph¿ runs articles about the missing Lenore on a regular basis and little businesses spring up to cater to the ¿Lenorians.¿ The narrator tells us, ¿On this girl we pinned all hopes of our dying town¿s salvation.¿ She goes on to say that the disappearance of Lenore ¿enlivened the town yet ruined its soul.¿The narrator¿s occupation, that of writing obituaries, also links the themes of disappearance and the words of illusion. Her words are meant to immortalize the dead and keep that person forever young, but sometimes the words distract the reader from reality. Only when the subject is dead does that person really come alive in Essie¿s well-crafted obituaries. Schaffert uses stories within the story to the same effect that a magician uses distractions, to disguise what is really happening and trick people into seeing something else. This is an effective way to provoke thought and discussion and test the gullibility or the faith of audience members. Schaffert does this with his readers. When readers look past the smoke and mirrors, they realize the underlying message of the book is the disappearance of small towns, and the extent to which our rural communities go to survive or to appear to be alive.Like a side-show magic act, words lure an audience to watch a small town disappear before their eyes. No matter how hard townspeople try, especially using the written word, to resurrect what once was, the spirit and the physical are separated. The assistant is not in the part of the box that is visible. Only a shell of what once was remains. The coffin offers little hope of life after death. The small town is hurtling towards the end, and even though we who live in a rural community still feel vital and very much alive, Schaffert wants us to wonder what comes after those illusive words, ¿abracadabra.¿ Will they be ¿Now you see it, now you don¿t.¿ ?by Deb Carpenter-Nolting
KristiB41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The characters were hard to follow in this story but I liked the story and the title was nothing like I thought it was going to be. That was a good surprise.
mazeway on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Utterly charming little book. I wavered between 3.5 and 4 stars, ultimately deciding it just hadn't enough weight for 4. i'm not sure it'll stay with me. If it does, perhaps I'll give it back that 1/2. The characters are well realized, the narrator a delight. It reminded me at times of Richard Russo, at times of Anne Tyler.
JackieBlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a girl who may or may not have gone missing, because she may or may not have ever existed. It's also the story of the small town who became famous because of her, no matter her existential state. But more than that, it's a story of a family, who owns the small newspaper that writes about the search for the missing girl. It's also the story of a reclusive yet extremely famous YA novelist, creator of much beloved and obsessed about fictional characters whose story is about to come to an end. These 4 story lines are all told by an 80+ year old obituary writer, who slowly weaves them into a collective whole that reveals some, but not all, of the answers to the questions in the book. I loved this book, it's short chapters and compellingly garbled tales keeping me up late into the night as I told myself, "just a few more pages...". But above all, I love that the reader is left with things to figure out for themselves--this ongoing trying to puzzle things out will make the book's impact last long after the covers are shut.
CasualFriday on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An elderly obituary writer, Essie Myles, recounts the year that a young woman claims that her daughter Lenore was abducted. The media is transfixed - the story temporarily saves the dying newspaper run by Essie's grandson Doc - but some people think Daisy is delusional and doubt that Lenore ever existed. Meanwhile, Doc's sister Ivy comes back to her 13-year-old daughter Tiff, having abandoned her for a lover in Paris five years previously.I loved the narrator's voice here: as I age, I'm susceptible to the charms of elderly people who are not doddering, and who are fully drawn complex people. The charm of the novel ended there for me, though, and I can't pinpoint why. It was quirky, but I didn't find it funny. The characters were real and should have been interesting, but they did not grab me. I more or less enjoyed reading the book, but it just dissolved on my tongue. If you like the work of Alexander McCall Smith, you might love this book. I don't, so I didn't.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 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
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