The Coffins of Little Hope is Timothy Schaffert’s deceptively titled latest book. Evoking the macabre, it is anything but. Instead, it is a small-town delight, with both a lightness and a richness that will fly by while you savor every moment.
Essie Myles is an 83-year-old obituary writer from a dying town in rural Nebraska. She lives across the street from her grandson Doc, who runs the local paper where her obits are published. With Doc lives Tiff, Essie’s 13-year-old great-granddaughter, issue of Doc’s sister Ivy, who ran off to Paris when Tiff was seven.
Doc’s paper was one of several small-town publications that had been selected to print, in secret, the eleventh and last of the dark-but-wildly-popular book series about two sisters who live in an asylum, but manage to get up to a myriad of twisted adventures. (Think Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events crossed with Harry Potter.)
That very same summer, a local woman named Daisy claims an itinerant aerial photographer stole her daughter Lenore. Even though no one has heard of Lenore and Daisy can provide no good picture of her or even a birth certificate, her story captures imaginations.
The next six months are a time of turbulence for the town and Essie. The world becomes obsessed with the story of Lenore (in no small way thanks to Doc’s relentless coverage), pages of the secret book may have been leaked, and Ivy returns to Essie’s family, turning the town and Essie’s life upside down.
The Coffins of Little Hope is charming and filled to the brim with eccentricities. Essie, an octogenarian narrator who is in full control of her faculties, narrates in a no-nonsense way that is refreshing and encouraging. The chapters are short and contain many a chuckle-worthy moment, while the whole arc of the story provides low-key commentary on many of the foibles in modern American culture. I have great hope for The Coffins of Little Hope and see many a reader and book group joining the search for the elusive Lenore.