The history of a Midwestern town founded by Swedish immigrants, including both lives and afterlives, from 1889 to 2021.
“Over the years, the mail-order bride business had been fraught with pitfalls and disappointments.” Not this time. The big, ambitious Swede Lordor Nordstrom and the nearsighted little wife who answers his ad fall quickly, madly in love. Lordor goes on to start a family, to incorporate Elmwood Springs, Missouri, and become its mayor, and also to donate a panoramic parcel of land for its community cemetery. And then he dies. “Shortly after the funeral, the strangest thing happened. Lordor Nordstrom woke up.” Turns out, after people die, they remain as spirits in the cemetery, at least for a while; at a certain point the souls disappear from the gossipy spirit kaffeeklatsch for parts to be revealed. As this tale winds through the decades and generations, two communities flourish, one of the living and one of the dead. Flagg (The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, 2013, etc.) does a clever job of tracking her clan of interconnected families through the decades, including a drive-by from Bonnie and Clyde, a visit from Harry Truman, four different wars, the birth and death of downtown, and finally modern plagues including drugs, unemployment, and deaths from texting. There’s even a murder mystery woven in, the untimely and suspicious death of a particularly beloved resident which the spirits are determined to investigate and avenge. Much of the fun of the book happens in the graveyard, with conversations like this: “I went to your funeral and sent you flowers.” “Thank you. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reciprocate.” “My hip doesn’t hurt anymore, but…I’m not happy….I hate that I’m dead, that’s why. I’ve been saving for ten years to be able to make that trip to California, and now I’m not ever going, and the ticket was nonrefundable.”
You know the expression “This is not your grandma’s epic novel”? Well, this is your grandma’s epic novel, anodyne but sweeping in its sweet way, full of home truths and consolation.