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The Coffins of Little Hope

3.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,387 ratings  ·  329 reviews
Timothy Schaffert has created his most memorable character yet in Essie, an octogenarian obituary writer for her family's small town newspaper. When a young country girl is reported to be missing, perhaps whisked away by an itinerant aerial photographer, Essie stumbles onto the story of her life. Or, it all could be simply a hoax, or a delusion, the child and child-thief i ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 19th 2011 by Unbridled Books (first published 2011)
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Average rating 3.09  · 
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 ·  1,387 ratings  ·  329 reviews

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Oct 01, 2011 rated it liked it
I found this to be a very strange book. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but never got fully engrossed, and had to remind myself to keep reading it. I skimmed the second half of the book. I really liked the narrative voice of the protagonist, and liked the complex story of intergenerational dynamics within the family. I was completely uninterested in the subplot of Daisy and Lenore, and unless I was missing something, could not for the life of me understand why there would have been any myst ...more
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
In a little town in Nebraska, octogenarian Esther Myles, or Essie or simply S writes obituaries for the town newspaper, the County Paragraph - not unemotional little sentences listing the dead, but very personal notes characterizing the dead person well enough to provide a nice semblance of who or how the person was alive. Her grandson, Doc, owns the newspaper that was originally started by her father. Doc's sister, Ivy, who ran away with her college professor, when her daughter Tiffany was seve ...more
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
Huh. Well. I went into The Coffins of Little Hope intending to really love it, but it just didn't click with me. I didn't invest in any of the characters - even the narrator, obituary writer S Myles, who I fully planned to adore. And it's not that the writing was bad. It wasn't. In fact, the writing was very, very good. But I kept reading, expecting the story to grab me at any moment, or expecting one of the characters to reach out and ensnare my heart, and it just didn't happen for me.

The stor
Feb 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
Who is Timothy Schaffert? Does he even exist? Maybe he's just a figment of his parents' imagination and is fraudulently appearing here and there, (like Kilroy on tour) and collecting accolades and kudos under the guise of a mild-mannered, be-spectacled, slightly balding man of a certain age. Maybe he was kidnapped by aliens. Maybe he wasn't. Maybe he's still on the mother ship ... ah, yes, that's it. He's travelling, still ... and not on this plane of existence.

The Coffins of Little Hope seemed
Diane S ☔
Was all set to give this book 4 stars, an elderly obituary writer, her grandson who owns and runs the newspaper but really loves magic, her grandaughter who left home 6 years previously, leaving her 7 year old daughter with her brother and a woman who may or may not be missing a child. Beautiful writng, the ending, however, wasn't. It was so underwhelming I couldn't believe it had ended.
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, which is interesting, because usually I am all about a good story--a good old-fashioned plot driven story. This book, however, contains several stories and potential stories and stories about stories intricately woven around one amazing character, Essie Myles, 83 years old and still writing obituaries for the family newspaper. Schaffert has a beautiful way with words and paints such a lovely picture of a life lived and still being lived. He captured that sense in all ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an odd little novel -- not little in terms of length, but little in the sense of an intimate novel with a small-town setting. (Although, with the larger print and generous spacing between sections, it isn't as lengthy as it first appears.) The narrator is an obituary writer in her 80s, dealing with a mystery in her small town (whether or not a supposedly missing girl actually existed or was invented by her alleged mother), as well as family drama involving her only surviving offspring: t ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Timothy Schaffert’s latest novel, the Coffins of Little Hope, is simply a delightful read. Narrated by an octogenarian obituary writer, Essie, the novel focuses on the disappearance of a young girl, which may or may not be an elaborate hoax which quickly becomes news story worthy of national attention; and the secret printing of the final installment of a series of young adult novels which have become a worldwide phenomenon. The novel explores myth, popular culture and small town rural life. Whi ...more
Darbi Hebrank
Jun 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
I give up. Half way through, way too long after starting it, I am giving up. Boring. Going nowhere. And I am always annoyed when the narrator isn't even present for the events that are being narrated. I wish authors would just collectively agree to only use first-Person narrators when in fact the narrator is experiencing things first-hand. You'd think that would be a given. I was excited at first that the setting was Nebraska, my home state. And the author is from my hometown. But sadly, though ...more
Feb 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
I loved this book - wonderfully written with endearing characters. I loved the main character and though she is 83 and I'm only going on 50 this year (yikes!!) I shared with her a perspective of growing old and I can only hope to be as interesting, independent, insightful, and quirky in thirty years as dear old Essie Myles.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am a dedicated reader of obituaries, reading them online first thing every morning, my sun salutation. What engages me are the poignant details family members choose to include and the phrases “devoted husband,” “beloved Nana” applied to so many and yet, believed to be unique to this person. Most are complete strangers to me, and yet, I am saddened by lives lost and the new emptiness I imagine in a family’s life.
That was a much longer than necessary explanation of how drawn I was to Essie Myl
Jean V. Naggar Literary
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“Each of [Schaffert's] books is a quirky little gem, particularly the first one...There’s a lot of plot to The Coffins of Little Hope. But Mr. Schaffert’s style is so gossamer-light that the story elements don’t become cumbersome. His book can accommodate a large cast of characters who bump into one another with an almost screwball regularity...Mr. Schaffert’s sly wit and frank affection for his characters can make him sound like a very American Alexander McCall Smith. ..A faint but important fr ...more
Apr 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Esther Myles has written obituaries for her family owned town paper called the County Paragraph since dropping out of school in the eighth grade, her byline has always been S Myles. At the age of 83 she is years past retirement but is busier than she has ever been. She doesn't let her age bother her, she actually considers herself a part of a group in town she calls the death merchants, the people who are a necessary part of dealing with death, such as the undertaker, who by the way is 78, and t ...more
Sep 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult
The last paragraph of this novel left me breathless, but actually the whole story was Schaffert's clever way to lead the reader to that breathlessness.

A story about life told through a narrator whose job is to write obituaries seems counter-intuitive. But when you think about it, obits are really attempts to bring to life a human who has lived. Added to that is a mystery about a missing girl - is she real, did she really go missing? And add to that the rhythms of a small Nebraska town with its s
Jun 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Carol by: IndieNext
Shelves: fiction
I first read about this on the Indie Next list for May, probably like most of you. I hadn't ever read anything by Timothy Schaffert but the story sounded interesting. It's about 83 year old Essie Myles who has written obits for her father's newspaper since she was a teen. It is this and much more. Initially I found myself losing the rhythm and pace of the story but then realized this was due to reading a paragraph or two and then leaving the book as work and other demands interfered. I picked it ...more
Oct 15, 2011 rated it liked it
See my full review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

The unusual narrator of this story is what initially grabbed my attention. An 83 year old obituary writer is not the first to come to mind when looking for a tour guide through a small town mystery.

Unusual characters are actually what drive this book. Essie is our octogenarian storyteller. She's had an extremely full life and does tribute to the dead with her obituaries ~ even still typing them out on a 1953 typewriter. Essie is surrounded by oth
Tim Storm
Aug 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I came to Schaffert via "The Mermaid in the Tree," a wonderful short story in the My Mother She Killed Me anthology that stars Miranda and Desiree, the child protagonists at the heart of a series of books in The Coffins of Little Hope. "The Mermaid in the Tree" is a very fantastical tale with sprinkles of the grotesque; I was hoping for the same sort of world in The Coffins of Little Hope. But Coffins is a much different kind of story. Though the glorious weirdness of "The Mermaid" flitters at t ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-fiction
I'm all in favor of quirky, but this was a tad too much. Somewhere out in the vast, empty Great Plains, a little town is dying, as chronicled by Essie Myles, the local newspaper's octogenarian obituary writer. Then a single woman who lives on a farm claims that her little daughter was abducted by a traveling aerial photographer. The cable TV crews descend, the missing little girl attains a cult status as the town is swamped with followers, and the girl's mother is a celebrity. Except that, priva ...more
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book was a bit strange for me. I like the tone and the language and that kept me reading, but about half way through the book I realized it wasn't going anywhere. And I was right. Maybe I'm naive and have overly high expectations, but the book comes to literally no conclusions. The reader is given no closure, and while this was probably the intention of the write, it left me feeling dissatisfied and like I'd just wasted my time reading, albeit charming, pointless ranting. The narrator is a ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
It's strange: this novel had elements of things I usually love in a book (quirky characters, interesting setting, fantastic writing). Despite that, however, this book did not work for me and I had to struggle to finish it. Perhaps because there was really no plot and no resolution? And can someone please explain to me that if this is such an accurate depiction of small-town life (as so many reviewers state), then how could not one single person in this small town substantiate the existence of th ...more
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
The story of a dying small town and a missing(?) little girl, the book is more a series of vignettes than a linear work of fiction. I enjoyed the author's excellent writing and found the vignettes to be generally interesting, but the book was ultimately unsatisfying. Halfway through the book I probably would have rated it four stars, but by the end I was frustrated by the author's failure to resolve *any* of the many, many story lines.
Christina Simons
Jul 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'd give it 2 1/2 stars if I could. The writing is 5-star, and the characters are wonderful. So is the narrative voice. The plot, however, never resolved. Too many cannons were lugged onstage only to sit there, unfired. Too many questions were the obvious ones to ask, yet no one ever did. The whole of this novel is definitely less than the sum of its parts.
Scottsdale Public Library
This is a quirky, quick read of a novel. Our narrator is 83 year old Essie, the obituary writer from a small town in Nebraska. Essie navigates us through the town’s turmoil as events unfold surrounding a lost little girl. There is no way to succinctly explain all of the plot points, so I will just say that this book is charming, quirky, and very enjoyable.

-- Lindsay M. --
Aug 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those who love/d "A Series of Unfortunate Events"
Shelves: 2011
I really like Essie, Tiff, and Doc and the dynamic between them. I could probably read a whole other book about them. However, the tale at the supposed heart of the novel, the one about Daisy and "Lenore," didn't interest me. I highly enjoyed the Series of Unfortunate Events take-off. Really, I think the whole novel should have been about the struggle of whether to close the County Paragraph.
Sep 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
After thinking about this for a few days, I had to downgrade my three star ratings. There is a story within a story built around a puzzle that is not quite solved. I hate loose endings. If it weren't for the very likeable 83 year old narrator, this would have received a single lonely star.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
i just loved this quirky and dialog filled mini-saga of small town iowa freaks. told mostly from the old ass lady obit writer, with a cast of 1000's!, well ok, dozens, of small town believers, skeptics, nuts, and assorted corn farmers and mean s-o-bin' dogs. you'll love it, or you're dead one.
Kristin R
May 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
A lovely novel written from the perspective of 83 year old S Myles, the town newspaper obituary writer, who reports the odd story of a missing little girl, who may not be missing at all.
Jennie Rosenblum
May 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
Book clubs choice - bummer I had to read the whole thing.
Sharon Falduto
A gothic novel (I guess; one of these days I'll find out what that means), about a little town in the Midwest that is withering on the vine, and also there's a girl who is either missing or might never have existed, and furthermore there's an addictive book series that is being printed in the little towns printing press, so there's all kinds of plots going on in this slim tome. The author had a nice eye for detail.

And now a minor rant on the subject of books within books--I've always thought thi
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Author of five novels: The Swan Gondola, The Coffins of Little Hope, Devils in the Sugar Shop, The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God, and The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters. Director of the (downtown) omaha lit fest. Contributing editor, Fairy Tale Review. Assistant Professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln creative writing program.

"The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God" is part o

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