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.
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"Miss Me When I'm Gone"By Emily Arsenault
William Morrow, 384 pages, $14.99
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.