Memoirist Gretchen Waters takes a fatal tumble down a set of a library steps following a reading for her bestselling post-divorce journal of self-discovery expressed through the lives of female country music performers, Tammyland (a “honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love”). Her literary executor and old college friend, Jamie Madden, isn’t convinced it was an accident. Married and pregnant with her first child, Jamie is tasked with organizing Waters’ new manuscript, and discovers the project was doomed in more ways than one. Waters had not only developed a bad case of writer’s block, but had strayed far from her original intent in writing her sequel (ostensibly a male country music artist version of Tammyland).
Through excerpts from Waters’ manuscript, Jamie and readers learn about the darker insecurities beneath Waters’ quirky and successful public life, as well as the writer’s increasingly troubling attempts to find her father and discover the truth about her mother’s murder. Despite her husband’s concerns, Jamie feels she must honor her friend’s memory by finishing her work—no matter what. Jamie’s efforts take her on the country road to interview people—some of whom may have deadly secrets and agendas.
Emily Arsenault develops the plot and her two female leads with great attention to detail. The narrative is a fascinating patchwork of book excerpts, emails, interviews, straight narrative, and other storytelling devices. Blended together, the writing works beautifully to create a highly suspenseful story rich with country-western music lore and overlaid with insights into the complex reality of friendships and our missed opportunities to connect.