The basics: When Jamie's best friend from college, Gretchen, suddenly dies, she's asked to serve as her literary executor. Gretchen was in the midst of writing a second memoir after the success of her first: Tammyland, part road trip to important sites for women in county music and part personal reflection on her own life and relationships. It was hugely successful and described as a honky-tonk Eat, Pray Love. With increasing suspicion around Gretchen's death, Jamie finds herself trying to figure out both what Gretchen was writing and what may have gotten her killed.
My thoughts: Arsenault tells the story of Gretchen in three ways: excerpts from Tammyland, excerpts from notebooks of her second memoir, and through Jamie's primary narrative. They were all interesting, but the excerpts from Tammyland were particularly enjoyable for me. To those who know me well, it's no secret I'm a big fan of country music (well, classic country and alt country mostly.) Mr. Nomadreader and I even got married at the Country Music Hall of Fame's Research Library in Nashville. As I read the excerpts from Tammyland, I wish someone had made a Spotify playlist of all the songs mentioned. (Has someone?) Some are old favorites, but others were new to me. While country music was the star of some parts, it wasn't the focus of the book, even though it was one of the most special parts.
The book as a whole is an intriguing literary mystery (although I figured it out earlier than Jamie did, I didn't figure out all of the layers of complexity), a book within a book, a fascinating character study of Gretchen, and a portrait of friendship. Through it all, Jamie is seven months pregnant. She feels a sense of urgency to pay tribute to Gretchen by finishing her book before her son is born. Knowing Arsenault wrote this novel while pregnant with her daughter added a beautiful layer of emotion. Jamie was a dynamic heroine, and I would welcome a sequel to this novel, whether Jamie found herself once again solving a crime or simply transitioning to being a mother.
Favorite passage: "I'm a shameless student of people's worst moments: lies, violence, melodrama, fraud. I have been since I was a kid. I like to hold them up like baubles and examine them every which way. When I was young, I thought that would make me understand them, and become immune to such moments myself. Now I'm older and smarter, and study them purely out of gratuitous habit."
The verdict: Miss Me When I'm Gone is poignant and irreverent in equal measure. It's at times a quiet, thoughtful meditation on who we are, but it's also a fast-paced cozy thriller. Arsenault manages to make these disparate genres come together into a cohesive narrative, including convincingly giving Gretchen and Jamie different voices.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: July 31, 2012
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours
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