“Outstanding … Arsenault’s lyrical, moving prose serves to make this more than just a compelling whodunit.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Absorbing … not only a fair-play murder mystery but a novel of sweet fulfillment for the pasts of the two deceased characters and the future of their chronicler.” – The Wall Street Journal
“The characters come to life nicely, and subtle clues build to a surprising, satisfying conclusion . . . thoughtful tale of how seemingly unimportant choices can bring unexpected consequences.” – Library Journal
“An evocative and lovely story.” — The Associated Press
Fiction Reviews, 6/25/12
Starred Review – Arsenault (The Broken Teaglass) offers a thoughtful reflection on country music, secrets, and relationships with her outstanding third mystery. Pregnant Jamie Madden, recently demoted “from health reporter to part-time night copy editor” at her budget-strapped newspaper, has been named the literary executor for her author friend, Gretchen Waters, who died from a fall down some stairs after giving a reading at a New Hampshire public library. Gretchen made her name with the bestselling Tammyland, a combination autobiography and study of the lives of country music stars such as Tammy Wynette, but she left behind an unfinished work with a darker tone. As Jamie looks into the manuscript, she finds information on the violent death of Gretchen’s biological mother, and wonders whether the author’s research into the past robbed her of a future. Arsenault’s lyrical, moving prose serves to make this more than just a compelling whodunit. (Aug.)
— full article from Publishers Weekly
NEW YORK TIMES
Fiction Review, 8/31/12
Honk if you love Tammy and Loretta and the other “legendary ladies of country music” Emily Arsenault pays her respects to in Miss Me When I’m Gone. The first of the three narrative voices in this rather solemn story is heard in excerpts from “Tammyland,” the best-selling “travel memoir” Gretchen Waters wrote on a pilgrimage to the home places of the singer-songwriters she admired. A more troubled voice emerges from Gretchen’s notes for a darker book about her search for the man who killed her mother. The third voice is that of Jamie Madden, the pregnant friend who becomes Gretchen’s literary executor after someone shoves her down a flight of stairs. Jamie hasn’t much personality, but Gretchen has more depth, and her heartfelt feelings for the sweethearts of Nashville and their sad songs make “Tammyland” sing.
— full article from the Sunday New York Times
July 2012 Issue
Best friends in college, Jamie and Gretchen drifted apart over the years, but Gretchen’s sudden death leaves Jamie struggling to deal with the loss. When Gretchen’s family asks Jamie to complete her new book, she discovers that her friend, a successful author, wasn’t working on a second, breezy memoir but investigating the murder of her biological mother. As Jamie starts to ask her own questions, discrepancies between what she’s hearing and what’s been written leave her wondering whether Gretchen’s death was truly accidental.
VERDICT Multiple story lines that take place in multiple time periods and that focus on at least three of the main characters, plus chapters from Gretchen’s published book and unfinished manuscript, all vie for attention, but should pose no problem for an alert reader. The characters come to life nicely, and subtle clues build to a surprising, satisfying conclusion. Readers who enjoyed Arsenault’s first two novels (Broken Teaglass; In Search of the Rose Notes) and literary mystery authors like Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman will appreciate this slow-paced but thoughtful tale of how seemingly unimportant choices can bring unexpected consequences. —Stacey Hayman
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Fiction Review, 8/1/12
Arsenault’s New Novel Is Evocative, Lovely Story
Emily Arsenault’s third novel, “Miss Me When I’m Gone,” begins with a newspaper article detailing the recent death of author Gretchen Waters, who fell down a flight of stairs after a reading. At first it seems an accidental death, but various details converge to lead Jamie, Gretchen’s best friend from college, to believe it might have been murder.
Gretchen made a splash with her memoir, “Tammyland,” that had been lauded by critics as a “honky-tonk ‘Eat, Pray, Love,'” and passages from that book, in praise of the female stars of classic country music, are interspersed with Jamie’s narrative as she sorts through Gretchen’s papers and discovers that her latest work in progress had been about looking for both her biological father and her mother’s killer, who may or may not be the same person.
We get to see a lot of Gretchen’s writing persona, in both published and draft/research form, which provides much needed insight into a character we never get to actually meet. Interestingly, Gretchen comes across as less than sympathetic; her own words paint her as selfish and manipulative. Jamie’s growing obsession with finding out what happened to Gretchen is at first odd considering how their once-close friendship had deteriorated, but Jamie’s sense of duty and guilt, as well as conflicting feelings over her impending motherhood, completely explain it.
Arsenault is best when unpacking the many tangled threads that make up a long-term friendship, as she proved in last year’s “In Search of the Rose Notes.” The one-sidedness of Jamie and Gretchen’s friendship here does not make it any less poignant.
The mystery wraps up well, though the climactic confrontation scene is slightly over the top and misplaced in an otherwise evocative and lovely story. There’s much to recommend here. – Michelle Wiener for The Associated Press
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Fiction Review, 8/3/12
The truth may set you free, but it’s often hard to find. That’s one thing that Jamie Madden, the pregnant, persistent narrator of Emily Arsenault’s absorbing third novel, “Miss Me When I’m Gone,” discovers as she looks into the suspicious death of her 32-year-old ex-college friend Gretchen Waters, the author of a bestselling book on female country-music stars, described by one reviewer as “a sort of honky-tonk ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ on a shoestring.”
Gretchen was at work on a second book, a memoir of her Connecticut childhood as the daughter of the town’s “bad girl”: an unmarried woman named Shelly, who died young, killed by an assailant never charged. In the wake of Gretchen’s own early demise, Jamie is asked to assemble a publishable manuscript from her friend’s first-draft pages and interview transcripts. Soon Jamie’s task becomes (like Gretchen’s) a quest to find Shelly’s killer—and, it would seem, Gretchen’s too. “Jamie,” asks her compliant husband, Sam, “are you researching Gretchen’s book . . . or are you investigating?” “Well,” she replies. “A little bit of both.”
Excerpts from Gretchen’s notebooks are interspersed with Jamie’s narrative, as are chapters from Gretchen’s earlier published book. Gretchen Waters was no Joan Didion, and Jamie is hardly a typical fictional detective, as she um’s and uh’s her tentative way through talks with several folk from Gretchen’s and Shelly’s pasts. The patience of even the most appreciative readers of Ms. Arsenault’s well-received previous novels (“The Broken Teaglass,” “In Search of the Rose Notes”) may be tried in the course of this slow-paced, discursive work, a text that drifts from topic to topic—Jamie’s pregnancy and bland marriage, Gretchen’s fascination with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. At times the book seems to be going nowhere.
But once the author’s carefully laid-in pieces all jell, the result is not only a fair-play murder mystery but a novel of sweet fulfillment for the pasts of the two deceased characters and the future of their chronicler. As Gretchen wrote of Tammy Wynette: “Maybe that’s all that any of us can ask for after we’ve gone . . . that there are a few people left behind who wish to honor us in strange and humble ways.” — Tom Nolan
— full article from The Wall Street Journal
Fiction Review, 8/12/12
“Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Emily Arsenault is a compelling mystery with a story within a story.
Gretchen Waters is the author of “Tammyland,” a honky-tonk version of “Eat, Pray, Love.” She dies when she falls down some stone steps, after speaking at a public event. People assume it was an accident.
Gretchen’s best friend from college, Jamie, now pregnant, had been out of touch until receiving an email from Gretchen a few weeks before her death. She feels guilty because she didn’t respond. After the funeral, Gretchen’s family asks Jamie to be her literary executor.
Jamie tries to put together the novel Gretchen was working on when she died. She left several notebooks filled with pieces of the story. Jamie returns to Gretchen’s hometown to seek clues. She finds Gretchen had become entangled in trying to find the person who killed her mother 20 years before and the identity of her father. It is now up to Jamie to solve the mystery as she works though Gretchen’s material. As she interviews people who knew Gretchen and her mother, Jamie realizes that their killer is now focused on her.
Passages from “Tammyland” are intertwined through the book. Each passage, titled with the name of a country song, focuses on Gretchen’s admiration for the women of country music. Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Dottie West have a strange appeal to Gretchen. She loves their songs because of their raw emotion and realism, a contradiction to her cool, hip, liberal New England persona. — Betty Lytle
“I really loved this book! And I have Emily Arsenault to thank for my new appreciation of classic country music.”