Updated: Aug 21
Len Joy's novel illuminates life and death in a small town
Singers, poets, citizens, and authors write about it
Miranda Lambert added her voice to a long line of songwriters and authors who write about life in a small town:
Every last one, route one, rural heart’s got a story to tell Every grandma, in-law, ex-girlfriend maybe knows it just a little too well Whether you’re late for church or you’re stuck in jail Hey, word’s gonna get around Everybody dies famous in a small town
Everyone Dies Famous
I don’t know if Len Joy, an award-winning author and nationally ranked triathlete, was listening to Miranda Lambert’s “Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town” while he trained, but his newest novel, Everyone Dies Famous draws on the same cherished tradition of small-town literature. The novel is set in Maple Springs, Missouri, a river community where everybody knows each other. Here, lives overlap, circle, and collide daily.
Like every small town, a diverse cast of characters walks the streets. Wayne Mesirow is a depressed veteran of the Iraqi War who returns to Maple Springs to find his marriage disintegrating. Dancer Stonemason was once a hometown hero but returns home, diminished and disgraced, dealing with the death of Clayton, his oldest son. As we read, we connect the dots and define the relationships that exist between people who’ve lived in a town for decades. An ambitious car dealership owner, a wealthy land developer, two women weaving baskets by the river, and a dog still mourning the loss of his owner are just a few of the characters we encounter as we turn the pages.
Two themes propel the novel along in forceful undercurrents
Two themes move the story along in undercurrents as powerful as the river that flows by the town. Grief is present for everyone, whether it is in the death of Clayton Stonemason, the death of dreams, or the death of love. Each character faces that sorrow differently — and sometimes unexpectedly — giving insight to the universal experience of what it means to mourn.
The second theme moving through the book depicts the conflicting goals of the people in town. As in any community, everyone’s idea of what they want to accomplish is different from the next person’s. That’s where the conflict begins. Does a brother honor his dead brother’s dreams? Does a daughter do what her father wants her to do? Does the ambition of a land developer obliterate the hope of a town revitalizing Main Street? Do husbands and wives have the same goals and ambitions? Not in Maple Springs, Missouri, or anywhere else in the world.
The power of pacing
Len Joy is a master at pacing, and he moves us along — urging us to turn the pages faster and faster. Each short chapter is time-stamped, and the action takes place in an intense fourteen hours, increasing with the building of a massive storm front. As the characters’ emotions intensify, so does the weather.
Len Joy creates a tight circle with his novel, tying the end back to the beginning. It starts with a Prologue that in an ironic twist of the term “Prologue” focuses on the end of the book, and we begin to understand the devastation — and the redemption — of living in a small town.
The appeal of small-town literature
I guess we’re all voyeurs. Getting intimate glimpses into the back-stories, the motivations, the situations that define people, has always been a popular form of literature.
Consider the classic Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Or the Pulitzer Prize Winner of 2009, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander is a poignant depiction of small-town life, and I am slavishly devoted to the people of Three Pines, the fictional village of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, where each character feels like my personal friend.
Everyone Dies Famous fits into the long-standing tradition of small-town literature. Read it if you’ve got a heart for veterans. If you live in a city and have dreamed about escaping to small-town life, or if you live in a small town and want to recognize people you know. Gain insight by watching ordinary people interact after decades of “knowing” each other.
Hunker down and weather the storm of human emotions in Everyone Dies Famous, where the problems are similar to yours and the people are people you know — no matter where you live.
Looking for interesting books and author backstories? Read more articles in "Book Talk."