Miss Me When I’m Gone by Philip Stephens

A twisted tale of roots music and of characters who, to understate it, are acutely haunted by their past.

Washed-up singer Cyrus Harper returns to his Ozark hometown after years of middling through the folk circuit, flailing through his own songs and versions of tunes ancient as the hills, minus a singing partner – his sister Saro, who dropped off the face of the earth ages ago.  He is back to attend to his aging and unhinged mother, whose delusions are partly what drove the family apart (she apparently tried to push her daughter over the edge of a cliff).   Cyrus is, to put it lightly, a mess – alcohol and a series of forgotten women are all that have fueled his shambling shade of a life.  The fact that he shares  his mother’s visions (a strange series of “hog-eyed men” haunt them) makes for an unpromising future for Cyrus – that and handling his finagling real estate broker brother, whose own visions include a gentrified redevelopment of the impoverished Missouri county in which they grew up.

intertwined with Cyrus’ sordid tale is that of Margaret – a woman of questionable past and unmistakable scar who wants to see her daughter; all she needs is a car and the cash to get there, and she knows how to use a pistol.  Margaret and Cyrus never meet; rather, they pass like ships in the night as she gets further into trouble with the law and Cyrus feebly tries to resurrect an old flame and maintain a shaky gig at the local strip joint. 

Miss Me When I’m Gone is as rambling as a murder ballad and in places, just as spooky, with a host of visions, lost souls, murderers, hippie wannabes, meth labs, and crazy militia types.  It’s like Winter’s Bone slammed together with The Songcatcher, with a Cold Mountain kind of wandering quest, and weirder than any of the above.   Miss Me When I’m Gone is a disquietening book, unflinching in its depiction of human madness and disillusionment, but for those who love roots music (old timey, blues, etc.) its gritty narrative will probably catch the roving reader’s eye long after the last imaginary fiddle note has faded away.  Appropriate background would be, at least, some rain, a wailing train whistle, and a lonesome wind blowing through the trees, off in the distance…

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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