The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline
Just imagine. You are an author who was once nominated for a National Book Award. You are working on a new novel, but your life is crazy. You yearn to get away, go to the seashore, and let the ocean inspire you. On Nantucket, you can write as you please, watch the waves, and fill your head with your characters so that they come alive on the page. Imagine you are Richard Parkland, the narrator of J.M. Tohline’s debut novel The Great Lenore. Writing is the last thing you end up doing on your quiet beach vacation.
Tohline grew up near Boston and lives on the edge of the Great Plains with his cat called The Old Man And The Sea. The Great Lenore is his first novel but definitely not his last.
A friend invites Parkland to stay at his Nantucket beach house over the holiday season, and Parkland readily accepts to work on a new novel. He becomes friendly with the wealthy Montanas who own the mansion next door; he ends up having Thanksgiving with them. The merriment of the holidays are cut short, though, when Lenore, married to one of the Montana sons, dies in a plane crash. The family is devastated, and Parkland feels out of place. After all, he did not know Lenore. He is shocked when the ghost of Lenore ends up on his porch! Lenore missed her plane, yet this character at the center of Tohline’s story, is so shallow that she will not even tell her husband she is alive. Her husband has a mistress, you see, and they have been growing apart. Yet, Lenore is in love with Jez, a man who works for the Montanas and who she has known for a very long time. Lenore and Jez have a complicated and complex relationship. I saw Lenore as a shallow young woman of privilege. She does not care who she hurts. She destroys people’s lives on a whim. Just what is so great about Lenore? I am afraid I cannot tell you. Yet this novel is so “right now.” Lenore and the Montanas represent the very rich who do what they please, while the little people, like you and me and Parkland get stepped on and used along the way.
Nantucket comes to life in The Great Lenore and becomes the perfect backdrop. I can think of no other locale that would have done this novel justice.
The Great Lenore is a stylish novella. His prose is clever and witty. Tohline explores such themes as fate versus free will and second chances. I believe readers will see themselves in Richard Parkland, an uncomplicated man who just cannot seem to process what he has witnessed. The reader will root for Parkland, just as the reader will praise Tohline. I predict we see great things from Tohline.