The Coffins of Little Hope

by Timothy Schaffert

Schaffert’s fourth novel, The Coffins of Little Hope (Unbridled Books, 2011) is another triumph of storytelling, featuring quirky characters, humor, compassion, and insight into human strengths and foibles. The story revolves around its narrator, 83-year-old Essie Myles, who is the obituary writer for the County Paragraph, her grandson Doc’s small town Nebraska newspaper. In one of the many intersecting plotlines that make up the book, the paper has been contracted to print the last book in a fabulously successful series of teen novels called The Coffins of Little Hope (think  A Series of Unfortunate Events and hope that Schaffert someday writes the series of children’s books he describes so appealingly). In another, a local woman claims that her teenage daughter Lenore (whom no one has ever seen) was kidnapped by her boyfriend Elvis, a ne’er-do-well photographer. And there’s more: Essie learns that her granddaughter, Ivy, long out of touch with the family, is planning to return home—news that is especially upsetting to Doc, who raised Tess, his niece, when her mother ran off to Paris when Tess was just a child. Things get very complicated when the national media learn about the (possible) kidnapping and descend on the small town, and pages of the top secret conclusion to the aforementioned series of novels start showing up.  What anchors these multiple strands of plot and makes them work so well together is Essie herself—wry, self-aware, and with a secret or two of her own. This enchanting novel is perfect for readers looking for realism with a heart by an author who cares about his characters and wants you to, too. Here’s how it begins:

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?

I don’t want to quote the last line, because it’s blow-your-mind perfection.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Coffins of Little Hope

  1. A.

    Hmm. I wanted to like the book as much as you did – I think my chief complaint was that all of the divergent plot lines were interesting, but there were just too many for me and I never could get them to work together as smoothly as I wanted them to. For instance, I was really intrigued about (forgive my spelling for a minute, I don’t have the book in front of me) Muscatine but felt that the plot offered in the book was just a little sample of a much larger interesting story. Maybe Schaffert could use this book like Faulkner uses his imaginary Yoknapatawpha county and he can just keep writing down the stories of all the people related to this town. But I totally agree with you about the Miranda and Desiree YA books, and hope that one day the author actually writes them!

  2. nancy pearl

    Let me know what you think. Hope you like it as much as I did.

  3. Elizabeth

    THIS is a book I will read. Nancy, I love it when you love a book because your reviews are *so* enticing :)

  4. Scott

    gotta get this!

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