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Miss Me When I'm Gone by Emily Arsenault

Miss Me When I'm Gone is Emily Arsenault's third novel.  Her first two were reviewed previously on the blog.  Go here and here to read about them.  Now that there are three I can see similarities--all three feature themes rooted in different areas of the literary world (there was the dictionary publisher setting in the first one, poetry appearing in a high school journal connected to a disappearance in the second, and the last manuscript and its research are the whole point of this third outing) and these last two also deal with themes of friendship and disconnection.  Neither of these latest two novels have settings as original as the first that was set in a dictionary publishing company whose stores of entries on index cards hid a decades old mystery.

After Jaime's old college friend, Gretchen, is found dead at the bottom of a treacherous, poorly maintained, concrete staircase, Jaime is asked by Gretchen's family to serve as unofficial literary executor of Gretchen's estate.  Jaime's main task is to get Gretchen's second and final manuscript in order for potential publication.  This is a task made difficult by the nature of Gretchen's process--with numerous starts and stops spread across as many notebooks and computer files.  Not to mention that Gretchen kept the exact nature of and progress of said manuscript quite close to the vest--confiding little and instead choosing to give evasive and vague descriptions of the manuscript to different people.  There is also the fact that the manuscript seemed to shift and evolve and take on a life of its own as Gretchen's research progressed.  Gretchen seemed to play her options close to her chest as she struggled to reconcile her publisher's expectations for and vision of her manuscript with her own reality as the manuscript took shape.

This is a story in which multiple threads of mystery are woven.  There's the mysterious fall that killed Gretchen that might have involved foul play or might have just been an accident or might have been connected to her work on the manuscript.  There's the puzzle that is Gretchen's manuscript--originally conceived by her publisher as a companion piece to her first memoir that would explore male country musicians, but which took off in a different direction the deeper Gretchen delved into her past.  As Gretchen gets deeper into the weeds of her research--work that takes her back to the town of her birth, to her biological mother's hometown and into the history of Gretchen's own origins.  There is the added mystery of Gretchen's own paternity wrapped up with the mystery of Gretchen's mother, Shelly's murder.  While for years the town and Gretchen's family believed the murderer to be Shelly's violent boyfriend, a man who was never convicted of the crime, there's something not quite right about the account of the night Shelly died.  But how is Gretchen's paternity connected to Shelly's murder?  And do whatever threads of these twin mysteries that Gretchen was unraveling also contain the answer to why she's dead now?

This is one of those books that's hard to put down, and it's a page turner.  The reader will piece together the bits of the various puzzles as the story goes and will probably get those pieces into place slightly ahead of Jaime.  The chapters are interspersed with excerpts from Gretchen's first memoir as well as the bits of drafts from her second manuscript.  The former slows the narrative while the latter gives insight into what Gretchen was doing in the months that led up to her death.  Ultimately, the separate mysteries are far more entangled and twisted than previously and long thought to be.  Check this book out the next time you're in the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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