Timothy Schaffert's masteful mix of serious and absurd
4/5 Unbridled Books One of the earliest viral videos was shot on the eve of the arrival of the sixth Harry Potter novel. Shot from the driver’s-side window of a car, it shows the driver accelerating past a Barnes & Noble, where little Slytherins and Gryffindors are waiting in line. Someone in the car shouts, ‘Dumbledore dies!’ and speeds off, leaving behind a flash mob of anger and dismay.
Schaffert, a truly underrated comic novelist, takes advantage of that fanboy panic in his latest novel. At the foreground is the release of The Coffins of Little Hope, the final book in a vaunted young-adult fantasy series published under the highest degree of self-serious secrecy the industry can muster. The narrator, Essie Myles, is the obituary writer for the local paper, and her grandson runs the printing press that will run off a portion of the book’s print run. Essie, though, is hardly impressed by the series –she’s in her eighties and barely impressed by anything. But then a girl named Lenore goes missing, and some question arises as to whether she was ever there to begin with; her mother claims to have had a home birth and homeschooled the girl, though no one’s ever seen her.
With the kidnapping mystery, Schaffert has crafted a complicated plot, though he seems only vaguely concerned with it, and the book is all the better for it. The mania is both hilarious (the author requires an exacting printing process that makes the books smell like dandelions crossed with cinnamon rolls) and a colourful backdrop for the mystery. Schaffert is a master at mixing the serious and the absurd.