Thursday, August 2, 2012

book review: Miss Me When I'm Gone by Emily Arsenault

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

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Miss Me When I'm Gone from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

Want more opinions? Check out the entire tour schedule, visit Emily's website or find her on Facebook.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

12 comments:

  1. I'm glad you said it was a cozy thriller -- I had that feel, too, then I was afraid that sounded silly. But that was really the vibe of the book -- or at least, what I got from it.

    Also, I looooooooooooooooooove that you got married at the Country Music Hall of Fame's Research Library in Nashville -- that's too perfect! I cobbled together a YouTube channel of songs mentioned since I have a soft spot for '70s country. Let me see if I can share it...

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    1. Cozy thriller does sound a bit silly, but I think the story within a story makes it work. I would love to see that YouTube channel if you can share the link!

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  2. I just read another review of this one yesterday, and the feeling was the same. I am not a big fan of country music (though I do like some), but all of the aspects of this story sound very enticing to me. I would really love to read this at some point, and especially the bits about Tammyland! Great review on this one today.

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    1. Zibilee, I think you'd like this one. Arsenault uses county music more as a vehicle to talk about life and love, and I really enjoyed it!

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  3. What a great quote! Now I want to read the book. I hope you make the playlist. ;-)

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    1. Thanks, Vasilly! The playlist is definitely a possibility when I find the time!

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  4. I like the idea of a literary executor. Although I know it's been done before, I don't think I've ever heard the name for it.

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    1. I hadn't heard the phrase before either, and the reactions of many characters in the book to the phrase itself were often priceless.

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  5. Murders, country music, and a pregnant narrator? Definitely a memorable combination!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

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  6. i like the sound of this one!

    Your new blog design is great. Although I liked your other blog deign a lot, this one is much easier to read.

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    1. Diane, it's a fun read, and I think you might like it!

      Thanks for your comments on the design. I wanted to make it easier to read, and although I'm still tweaking this one, I am quite happy with it thus far.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!