Everyone Dies Famous by Len Joy – Review

As a tornado threatens their town, a stubborn old man who has lost his son teams up with a troubled young soldier to deliver a jukebox to the wealthy developer having an affair with the soldier’s wife.

It’s July 2003 and the small town of Maple Springs, Missouri is suffering through a month-long drought. Dancer Stonemason, a long-forgotten hometown hero still grieving over the death of his oldest son, is moving into town to live with his more dependable younger son. He hires Wayne Mesirow, an Iraq war veteran, to help him liquidate his late son’s business.

The heat wave breaks and the skies darken. Dancer tries to settle an old score while Wyne discovers the true cost of his wife’s indifference and turns his thoughts to revenge. When the tornado hits Maple Springs, only one of the men will make it out alive.

“Everyone Dies Famous” is a story from the heartland about the uncommon lives of everyday people – the choices they make, how they live their lives, and how they die. 

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I was sent this novel from FSB Associates, and was already incredibly taken with the title before I even cracked the spine. One of my favorite Miranda Lambert songs, ‘Famous in a Small Town’, deals with the same concept; that when you’re from the smallest of communities, anything you do will be seen, heard, and scrutinized. Life in Maple Springs, Missouri is no exception. We are presented with a rural area on the verge of drawing life and visitors back to the area when disaster strikes. In the beginning chapter, a tornado rips through the sleepy area, and then we get to see the moments before tragedy. What follows is a beautiful character study divided into five separate voices, and in those accounts we see the hidden heart of Maple Springs, and the broken people keeping it alive.

I’ve lived in one small town or another my whole life, and so this novel felt like home to me. I recognized people I know and love in the faces of the jilted veteran, the grieving father, the girl and her beau with dreams far larger than the space they’re in. It was so easy to fall for these characters, and to care about each one. As they were woven into each other’s stories, you start to slowly see the connections tethering them, and how close some are to breaking. Joy has done a fantastic job of painting different shades of grief across this narrative; some with a yellow beacon of hope and others with the black tinge of despair. It was an emotional rollercoaster, especially knowing the horror that awaited these people who are trying to get their lives back together. It is extremely lifelike in that way; you never know how much time you have, and it certainly beckons the reader to rise above the waters of life that threaten to drown them.

Through its diverse cast of characters and the idyllic setting, this novel gives you stories that will live on long after you have read it. You will ache with wishes that these families that have been torn asunder will find themselves whole again. It’s a short read, but an important one. I think everyone deserves to die famous. I think Joy’s work shows that no matter what type of life you lead, there will always be whispers following you. However, it’s the people closest to you that will carry you with them. The running theme of Dancer Stonemason’s late son, Clayton, still being such a prominent figure in the hearts and minds of our narrators speaks beautifully to the book’s title, and the unlikely friendship between the father and a young National Guard soldier reminds you that even after loss, there is always another adventure to be had.

5/5 stars

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