Richard is a onetime National Book Award finalist who escapes to Nantucket to work on his next book. Instead, he spends his days fighting a losing battle against writer’s block and staring at his neighbors’ recent arrival for the holidays. Upon learning that the neighbors’ son is an old college friend, he begins passing his days getting drunk and getting high with his friend.
Enter Lenore. Married to his friend’s older brother but not due to arrive in Nantucket for another few days, all Richard keeps hearing about is beautiful and unique and perfect Lenore is. Everyone in the family seems to adore her with the exception of her own husband, who is carrying on an affair behind her back. A couple of days later, Richard is alarmed to find everyone next door beside themselves with grief; Lenore’s plane has gone down, and everyone on board is dead. So imagine Richard’s surprise with Lenore — very much alive and well — shows up at his doorstep not long after, begging him to hide her until her funeral and keep everything a secret.
Instantly, Richard begins to understand why everyone loves Lenore so much. As the days leading to her funeral progress and everyone’s grief deepens, Richard pieces together a clearer picture of the destructive hold Lenore has on everyone’s hearts and can feel himself falling under her spell as well. Her reasons for faking her death are clear — albeit questionable — at the beginning, but her intentions keep changing right up until the very end. Everything hinges on seemingly innocuous choices.
I wanted to like this book, and in fact, there’s a lot I do like about it. Tohline’s writing is beautiful, and he’s great at creating and maintaining a mysterious, almost ethereal tone. The Great Lenore is a pretty short novel that can be read in one sitting, but even with all the plot twists, Tohline takes his time teasing out his plot and giving the reader some character background. I appreciated that.
But ultimately — and I know I’m in the minority here — the book just left me feeling meh. Part of it was that I never believed in Lenore’s greatness; the reader is fed a constant stream of how amazing she is, but I just never felt it. And the rest…I don’t know. I can see why people would enjoy this book, and I personally didn’t not like it, but overall it didn’t do much for me.
The Great Lenore was released on June 15, 2011 by Atticus Books.