Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Flicker of Old Dreams” as Want to Read:
The Flicker of Old Dreams
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Flicker of Old Dreams

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,109 ratings  ·  234 reviews
With the quiet precision of Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres and the technical clarity of Mary Roach’s Stiff, this is a novel about a young woman who comes most alive while working in her father’s mortuary in a small, forgotten Western town.

“The dead come to me vulnerable, sharing their stories and secrets…”

Mary Crampton has spent all of her thirty years in Petroleum, a smal
Paperback, 305 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Harper Perennial
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Flicker of Old Dreams, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Flicker of Old Dreams

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,109 ratings  ·  234 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Flicker of Old Dreams
Amalia Gkavea
‘’This town wants you to be as it’s always been and do as it’s always done’’, he says, ‘’but what if that’s not what makes you happy?’’

In this small community, which seems to have been stuck in time, being happy isn’t important. It’s not even desirable. Being ‘’proper’’ is all that matters. ‘’Proper’’ according to the wishes of the people who inhabit the god-forsaken town and who seem to have been created without something vital for any human being. Heart and soul.

Prepare for major distribut
Diane S ☔
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A small Midwestern town, a close knit community of framers, ranchers and those who work in the grain industry, these are proud, hardworking people. All this changes, when the towns golden boy, a terrific athlete is killed in a grain accident. His younger brother is working with him that day, and the town blames this young fourteen year old for the accident. The mill closes and the town slowly begins to die. Mary, a young girl already an outcast as her father is the towns funeral director and mor ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2018-completed
Thank you to two Goodreads friends whose splendid reviews led me to reading this wonderful book: Amalia, for the gift of initially making me aware of it, and Diane S, for reinforcing my desire to read this as soon as I could.

This novel is told in Mary’s own words and from her perspective. She has never known her mother who died giving birth to her. We know her Dad did his best as she reflects on things they shared when she was small – stories, fishing outings, and tender moments when her Dad fix
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: montana, 2019
4.5 Stars

”My mother has followed us into the house. My mother is the name I’ve given his grief. She was gone long before I knew what death was so, for me, she is an abstract loss, a game of guessing at the life I might have lived.

“My mother is a collection of stories and inanimate objects. She is a wedding ring in my father’s bedside drawer, a rosehips-flavored tea bag in the back of our kitchen cupboard that we both refuse to use or throw out. She is a picture of someone standing on the rims
Caroline Leavitt
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-adore
I first read this novel in manuscript, and I was so completely undone by it in the best possible way that I pushed the author into changing agents and she immediately got a book deal. It's about a female mortician, about a childhood tragedy that still haunts a man, about the endless landscape of small towns, the hope of love, and it is exquisitely written. I cannot say enough about this novel except YOU HAVE TO READ IT BECAUSE YOU WILL ADORE IT, TOO!

Small town rural America. Sometimes with populations so small, here it's less than 200, crazy ideas and notions spread like wildfire. In Petroleum, home to Mary Crampton and her father, the town's funeral director, everyone blames Robert Golden for the accidental death of his brother, years ago when Robert was fourteen. It's all nonsensical, but then small town thinking can at times be just that. When Robert comes back to town to help his ailing mother, Mary is his lone supporter, much to the ch ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If I had known the story within the covers prior to reading it I don t think I would have chosen to read it BUT I would have missed a gem. I truly do not know how to describe this book. Beautifully written ,compelling yet at the same time very intimate...hauntingly sad but hopeful . I believe that the characters (especially Mary ) will stay tucked in my heart for a very long time.
Susan Henderson
Sep 09, 2017 added it  ·  (Review from the author)
So excited & unbelievably grateful for this generous, 2-page review of THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS in Publishers Weekly!

Here is an interview with my editor, Sara Nelson:
And here's a compilation of reviews:
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A small, once thriving town called Petroleum, surrounded by farmers and ranchers and open land out West, is the main focus of this book.

A horrible deadly incident in the grainary shaft causes the town to become unmoored. It causes the townspeople to wrongly make blame and also to never forget or forgive. It will be the end all curse to the town’s livelihood and debilitating descent. Its closure causes the farmers to go away, farther down the road to another town to do their business of corn and
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: librarything
Although Mary Crampton had dreams of being an artist when she was younger, she stayed on in the dying town of Petroleum. She lives with her father in the town’s funeral home and works as the embalmer. She now directs her art to the deceased that she works on, making them appear to be almost alive to help their loved ones through the funeral services. She’s a lonely woman and uncomfortable socializing. She feels more at ease with the dead than with the living. The local children taunt her and cal ...more
Jennifer Haupt
Dec 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This novel transported me into a world so different than my own, a small farming town on the verge of becoming a ghost town, torn apart by a horrible accident. The main character, Mary Crampton, is a mortician's daughter who takes on the family business because of feelings of responsibility and gives up her own dreams. Her feelings of alienation, an outsider in her small town, and longing for love are palpable. Her courage in both small and, eventually, large ways is endearing. I don't want to g ...more
Jun 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. I loved the themes of being an outsider and wanting to be accepted into an environment even though we can see how intolerant and closed that environment is. My heart ached for Mary and her father, who love each other but have no idea how to express that love or stop hurting and misunderstanding each other. I love how each character is presented. I especially loved how we are shown how a place and its people create their own history and mythology and cling to that created histo ...more
Chris Conley
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it
To me, this book was a downer. That said, the author did make much of it a powerful song of love and tribute for a way of life that is fading from much of this country. She paints the hardy and resilient communities who carry on the, usually, thankless jobs of ranching clearly. Where I got lost was in the narrowness of those same people and their casual disregard for others.
Dunja *a chain reader*
Twenty years before the actual story gets underway, tragedy struck the small town of Petroleum. A beloved high school athlete died in a bizarre accident in a local mill’s grain elevator. This shocking incident forever changed Petroleum, as the mill closed down and a number of people became unemployed. The main culprit turned out to be the victim’s 14-year-old brother, Robert Golden. The residents of Petroleum were ruthless and cruel to Robert, and made him leave the town soon after.

Fast forward
Helen Simonson
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Haunting tale of a dying town and a mortician's daughter aching to live life. Beautiful writing and a strong story filled with extraordinary detail. I loved it.
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Susan will be on a panel of mine at Literary Orange in April 2018 so I received the book--and I read it in two days. I LOVED it. It's not necessarily the type of novel I'm attracted to. I thought it would be a quiet novel with not a lot going on but man, is there a lot going on. The main characters were wonderful and the writing was top-notch. Really loved it and am so glad I'm moderating a panel with Susan. She'll also be on my radio show sometime soon. ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Susan Henderson’s newest novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams, is the poignant story of Petroleum, a crumbling town in America’s heartland that is still haunted by a grain elevator accident that killed the community’s beloved high school athlete twenty years prior. The story is told from the eyes of Mary Crompton, a Midwestern girl that gave up on her own dreams to care for her father and the family’s mortuary. Mary spends her days hiding from her dreams and from the world outside the mortuary doors ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book squeezed my insides and I found tears being forced out of my eyes a few times. The slow, stark atmosphere absorbed me. This town, hollowed out yet still there, felt so real (along with the characters inhabiting it). The central theme of loss in its many forms is a constant presence, touching and weighting everything else, slowing them down, making them thick and heavy. Add in the perfectly captured feeling of being an outsider, carrying it around inside you, and it’s no wonder I felt t ...more
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, arcs2018, 2018
In this quietly powerful novel, a young woman working in her father's funeral home considers life beyond the boundaries of the dying Midwestern town in which she has spent all her life. This character-driven novel with a strong sense of place will resonate with readers who enjoy Kent Haruf's novels or Christopher Scotton's The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. Thanks to the publisher for providing me with this advance reading copy. ...more
May 17, 2021 rated it it was ok
This was a pretty formulaic novel. Two people who are unfairly shunned by their small town find love, both for each other and for themselves. This book did not work for me. I thought the author did far more telling than showing. And what she did tell the reader, she repeated endlessly. At the same time we were beat over the head with the narrator’s social awkwardness, the lack of acceptance by the town’s people, the unfair way the young boy was blamed for the accident that killed his brother or ...more
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book was absolutely fantastic. As a girl who grew up in a small Montana town myself, I felt intimately connected to this novel. The story is extremely well-done, and I felt all the feelings in reading this. I myself felt the call to escape from small town life, and felt the pressure to adhere to a very specific set of standards. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves great character building and stories about small towns.
Saralee Rosenberg
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is hard to imagine a western town so primitive and remote it has yet to be impacted by Amazon or a local Kohls. But no need for a Chamber of Commerce in Petroleum for there is virtually no commerce. Or customers. With a population of 178, a number that continually dwindles as residents die or move away, life remains unchanged. Until a once vilified teen returns home to care for his dying mother and reconnects with the one neighbor who is not offended by his presence.

In Susan Henderson’s THE
Sally Koslow
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of this extraordinary novel, which I urge you to read. In Mary Crampton, a funeral home worker in a dying Montana town, Susan Henderson has crafted a real and interesting character—sad but strong, a motherless outlier who has never been embraced by the citizens of her community, where she has lived her entire life: thirty years. Living through her subtle transformation feels powerful and satisfying. As someone who grew up in North Dakota, I also appreciated how ...more
Tabitha Lord
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Susan Henderson’s stunning new novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams, thoughtfully explores themes of redemption, forgiveness, resilience, and love. And, true to it’s title, asks whether it’s ever too late to pursue one’s dreams. Years ago, a terrible accident shut down the mill in Petroleum, and as a result, the small midwestern town has been slowly dying out. The residents of Petroleum turned their desperate, misplaced anger on the victim’s brother, Robert Golden, who left town soon after the accid ...more
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-and-enjoyed
Susan Henderson's every sentence is a treasure in this contemplative but gripping story of life in a small town that time seems to have forgotten. Hanging on by their proverbial coattails, the people of "Petroleum" Montana somehow go on living despite the devastating loss of their main source of income and employment years before to a tragic accident. Protagonist Mary Crampton, however, is mostly preoccupied with the dying, or more specifically, the dead. It's in the descriptions of Mary's work ...more
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was such an amazing story and so beautifully written. Petroleum is a dying midwestern town with less than 200 residents. Everyone knows everyone and their business. Grudges are held and forgiveness rare. Work has become scarce after a grain elevator incident that crippled the town. Mary is the embalmer who works with her father in the mortuary. Because of her occupation she is an outsider and taunted and feared by children and even adults. She leads a lonely life but takes pride in her art ...more
Rachel Guinsburg
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading this book which I received as an uncorrected proof. Publication is March 2018. Highly recommended.
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book heartbreaking, lovely, tender, bold, and masterful. Beautiful, lyrical writing. And an unforgettable story. A real pleasure.
Denver Public Library
Jul 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dodie, fiction
Mary has always been a bit of curiosity in the tiny town of Petroleum, Montana. Her mother died in childbirth, and the only life she's known is as the only child of the only undertaker for 45 miles around. There is not much to know about the town other than its desolation, bad weather, and the tragedy that happened many years ago that lead to Petroleum's slow collapse. Mary remembers it — football star Eddie from her high school died in a grain tower accident while his younger brother Robert had ...more
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson is a very highly recommended lyrical novel about small town outsiders, prejudices, and expectations.

Petroleum, Montana, population 182, is a very small, dying town. It has been in decline for twenty years, ever since the accident that took the life of a local high schooler and shut down the grain elevator, the town’s main source of employment. The younger brother of the victim was blamed for his death and sent to live with relatives.

Mary Crampton has
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Forever Bridge
  • The Golden Hour
  • Girl, Alone (Ella Dark FBI Suspense Thriller #1)
  • All the Forgivenesses
  • Grace
  • The Nature of Fragile Things
  • Season of the Dragonflies
  • When I Was Ten
  • The Grass Harp, Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories
  • Breathing Water
  • Hadley & Grace
  • The Hiding Place (Mercy & Elvis Mysteries #3)
  • Faye, Faraway
  • Prairie Fever
  • The Sheep Queen
  • Wickwythe Hall
  • Demian
  • The Silence
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Susan Henderson is a Hawthornden International Fellow, a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Award. She is the author of the novels Up from the Blue and The Flicker of Old Dreams, both published by HarperCollins. Her latest is a Montana Book Award Honor Book and winner of the High Plains Book Award for Fiction, the WILLA Literary Award for Contempora ...more

Related Articles

Kazuo Ishiguro insists he’s an optimist about technology.  “I'm not one of these people who thinks it's going to come and destroy us,” he...
396 likes · 37 comments
“My mother has followed us into the house. My mother is the name I’ve given his grief. She was gone long before I knew what death was so, for me, she is an abstract loss, a game of guessing at the life I might have lived. My mother is a collection of stories and inanimate objects. She is a wedding ring in my father’s bedside drawer, a rosehips-flavored tea bag in the back of our kitchen cupboard that we both refuse to use or throw out. She is a picture of someone standing on the rims too far away to see. She is a book underlined only to page seven. She is a pair of burnt rosebushes in the yard that Pop won’t dig up. She is the line between his eyebrows, the groove where his smile would be. She is a feeling in the gut I can’t name or move.” 1 likes
“Pop said once that relationships are more often like old houses—the place where you want to live, but an ongoing project—something always leaking, peeling away, breaking down.” 0 likes
More quotes…