I read and enjoyed Emily Arsenault's previous book - In Search of the Rose Notes - last year. (my review)
In her latest release, Miss Me When I'm Gone, Arsenault again utilizes journals, books and visiting the past to solve the present.
Gretchen and Jamie were close friends in college, but their lives diverged as time passed. Jamie is married to Sam, expecting her first child and works as a part time editor. Gretchen is divorced, childless and a published author. Her first book was called Tammyland - a memoir of her travels after her divorce that specifically drew upon her love for female country singers such as Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. She had started work and research on her second book - ostensibly about the flip side - male country singers and her continuing journey. But, after giving a reading at the library in her old home town, Gretchen is found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Her death is ruled accidental. Her family asks old friend Jamie to act as her 'literary executor' and try to assemble the research of her second book for the publisher.
As Jamie begins to read Gretchen's notebooks, she realizes that what she was really researching was her biological mother - killed when Jamie was only seven. The murderer was never caught. Was that fall accidental? Or is someone not happy with the past being revisited?
Miss Me When I'm Gone is told in a three part narrative. In the beginning I did have to stop and get my bearings when starting a new chapter. The first stream is excerpts from Tammyland. The second narrative is through Gretchen's research notes on the second book. And it is these notes that send Jamie looking for answers as well. The third is from Jamie's present day viewpoint.
I found the use of the country western singers, their songs and their lives to be an especially inventive, unique and a fascinating way to draw a portrait of Gretchen. Her writings in this book are quite introspective. Many of the stories told in this book had me heading the internet 'just to see.' (Loretta Lynn and Burt Reynolds did indeed have a fling.) The excerpts from Tammyland were actually my favourite part of the book. I am familiar with and enjoy this type of music, but those not enamoured of country western tunes may not appreciate it as much.
The notebooks allow us to discover the clues and try to piece together the mystery along with Jamie. Jamie was a character I had a hard time nailing down. I appreciated her loyalty to her friend and her determination to find answers. What I couldn't understand was her seeming indifference to being pregnant. Although she is concerned with the baby's health, it is her relationship with her husband I found off putting. She blatantly ignores his concerns, her safety and the child's safety. I'm not sure why Arsenault made this character preganant - perhaps only to provide another difference between the way her life and Gretchen's lives evolved? Sadly, I didn't really ever warm up to Jamie and this influenced my final opinion of the book.
Miss Me When I'm Gone is hard to classify. It has a mystery component, but it was the relationships that took center stage - which gave it more of a women's fiction bent. There's lots of material here that book clubs could sink their teeth into. Read an excerpt of Miss Me When I'm Gone.
Emily Arsenault is the critically acclaimed author of The Broken Teaglass, a New York Times Notable Mystery, and In Search of the Rose Notes. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter. You can find Emily Arsenault on Facebook.
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