Timothy Schaffert: Great Plains Gothic

Interview

Friday, June 17, 2011

Timothy Schaffert’s new book isn’t a typical mystery novel. It’s got an ominous crime set in a small town rife with intrigue, but the narrator isn’t a hardscrabble police detective or a noirish gumshoe. Instead, Schaffert’s story is told by an 83-year old grandmother.

Schaffert’s choice of the elderly Essie Myles as the narrator of his fourth novel, The Coffins of Little Hope, gives the reader a a rare look at an unusual occupation. Myles is the obituary writer for her hometown Nebraska paper. She’s lived in the same place long enough to know just about everybody in town — living and deceased — and so when a little girl is abducted (or is she?), Myles relates the proceedings with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Myles’ job matters. As Schaffert told Kurt Andersen, the obituaries page in a small town “was where the drama was. There weren’t crimes to report. There weren’t scandals. You took the pulse of the community by looking at not just who was dead, but who was surviving them.”

Lois Smith provides the voice of Essie Myles in our story.

Write your own obituary: Kurt asked Timothy Schaffert for the first line of his own obituary, and Schaffert provided a doozy: “He only faked his death and is living comfortably in an exotic locale.” How do you want the first line of your obituary to read? Leave a comment and tell us — just one sentence only, please. In the coming weeks we’ll read our favorites on the air.

    Music Playlist
  1. Country Theme
    Artist: Angelo Badalamenti
    Album: The Straight Story Soundtrack
    Label: RCA Victor
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. When you Wake Up Feeling Old
    Artist: Wilco
    Album: Summerteeth
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Guests:

Timothy Schaffert

Produced by:

Derek John

Comments [37]

Doug Moran from Denver, CO

He was just getting going.

Jul. 02 2011 07:49 PM
Jan Armor from Wakefield,RI

Great show, Kurt! Here's my first line of the obit:

"He was drawn to forms and shapes, lines and textures, darkness and the light, but he especially loved trying to catch moments when things looked like they should."

Jan Armor
armorphoto.com

Jun. 30 2011 05:59 AM
Faina

She's never had enough time to fully enjoy a love affair with life....now ...she 's got as much time as she needs....well ....this is either/or situation....

Jun. 27 2011 01:47 AM
Elizabeth Meixell from Stuyvesant Town

She never caused a stir.

Jun. 26 2011 11:34 AM
Anthony from Cleveland, Ohio

I told you I didn't feel good!

Jun. 26 2011 10:35 AM
Mary Ann from MI

She ran out of errands

Jun. 23 2011 03:26 PM
RODNEY from Omaha

Who knew that would happen.

Jun. 22 2011 11:38 AM
Heather from the cubicle

She spent her career working in the Admissions Office, and regretted deeply, later in life, not admitting more freshman to nursing than to pre-med.

Jun. 21 2011 11:37 PM
marcia biasiello

no longer on facebook.

Jun. 21 2011 12:00 PM
Jean from Pittsburgh

She was the epitome of mediocrity.

Jun. 20 2011 06:06 PM

His jokes seem a lot funnier now that he’s gone.

Jun. 20 2011 02:47 PM
Lizzy C.

"The day he first told me he was starting to disappear I didn't believe him & so he stopped & held his hand up to the sun & it was like thin paper in the light & finally I said you seem very calm for a man who is disappearing & he said it was a relief after all those years of trying to keep the pieces of his life in one place. "

(from Brian Andreas' 'Disappearing'

Jun. 20 2011 01:36 PM
Kim Z. Dale (@observacious) from Chicago

She disliked children until she had her own who she loved so much she trembled.

Jun. 20 2011 12:50 PM

Everyone said she was nice, but they didn't know her that well.

Jun. 20 2011 10:42 AM
Dale Hardman from Jersey City

He was present while here,always in the moment becoming forgotten being.

Jun. 19 2011 09:32 PM
Barb from VA

She has completed her final sun salutation, and has entered eternal savasana....

Jun. 19 2011 09:31 PM
Allison from Centerville, Utah

She's gone to make a "Big Green Salad".

Jun. 19 2011 09:23 PM
Gilles Guénette from Stanbridge East, Québec

He didn't believe in life after death; you can stop visiting...

Great show -- as usual. Thanks for the interview, I will add this title to my "Book to read" list!

Jun. 19 2011 07:50 PM
Janis Seyler from Cocoa, Florida

Obit: Into entropy her carcass goes while out toward infinity her spirit flows.

Jun. 19 2011 04:31 PM
Rodger Reid from New Preston, CT

Rodger has spent his whole life working toward this moment

Jun. 19 2011 02:22 PM
Leon Zitzer

Rumble, young Jew-boy, rumble.

Jun. 19 2011 12:24 PM
(mr) Tilly Gokbudak from Roanoke, Va.

His father died on his thirteenth birthday on March 4, 1983, but Tilly Gokbudak somehow managed to live a happy and productive life anyway.

Jun. 19 2011 12:04 PM
NBE from New Jersey

"She was right."

And on my tombstone: "I was right."

Jun. 19 2011 12:00 PM
Elizabeth Hewitt from Maryland

She was a tender person who loved her family and animals.

Jun. 18 2011 09:49 PM
Beth Wilson

She got hit on the head by a grilled cheese sandwich that fell out of an oak tree, and that changed how she thought about life.

Jun. 18 2011 06:49 PM
Hubert J Steed from NYC

Obit first line: "Thanks for the memories!"

Jun. 18 2011 06:10 PM
Glorya Anderson from Tucson, Arizona

IT WASN'T WHAT I EXPECTED

Jun. 18 2011 05:58 PM
Patrick Batchelder from New York City

Well done, welcome home good and faithful servant.

Jun. 18 2011 05:03 PM
Candy Lee from NYC

"she played the banjo"

Jun. 18 2011 05:02 PM
Ginger from VA

We invite Ginger's friends to come raise a glass to say we will miss her terribly or thank goodness she's gone.

Jun. 18 2011 03:20 PM
Lew Wolkoff from Harrisburg, PA

This the acrtual first line of the obituary I've told my daughter I want to have.

On November 12, 1977, the members of the Philadelphia Ccience Fcition Convention found Lew Wolkoff guilty of heresy to the True Faith of the Scred Cat, a made-up for the purpose of being silly religion, and sentenced him to drink himself to death with Diet Coke sometime within the next 100 years.

Jun. 18 2011 03:07 PM
Mordecai Christi from Boston

He finally took the red pill.

Jun. 18 2011 02:01 PM
Matthew

Seriously, this guy?

Jun. 18 2011 01:57 PM
carolee groux from Omaha, Ne

Quote for my tombstone: Living Well was the Best Revenge

Jun. 18 2011 01:02 PM
Marvin Berman from Philadelphia

His shadow did shade and will enlighten all whom he touched.

Jun. 18 2011 08:03 AM
Kathy R.

She had class.

Jun. 17 2011 08:03 PM
Jazz62 from Omaha

Great book. Lots of layering of relationships. Quirky, well, worth the read.

Jun. 17 2011 05:59 PM

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