the only person who even notices, much less cares. What begins as a good-natured attempt to deliver some make-up work tumbles headlong into a quest deep into hillbilly noir in an attempt to verify that there is still some good in what appears to be a crumbling world.
Ellis is pitted against a preacher’s son whose sociopathic tendencies have seeped into the fabric of small-town life, and he is partnered with The Drew—full-time assistant principal, part-time private detective—who wears both his old coach’s whistle and his monotonous family life like veritable Albatrosses. He explores each dark crevice of backwoods Arkansas as both a literal nightmare of gothic possibilities and an analogous depiction of his inner struggles with adulthood.
Reluctantly, Ellis comes to the realization that Spencer’s disappearance is directly linked to whatever happened to that little girl. Unfortunately, others have made the same discovery. Somewhere in a stack of ungraded essays, Spencer has revealed the horrific truth behind the brutal murder and burial of a six-year-old girl. And it doesn’t much feel like anyone wants that truth to emerge. Even Ellis is unsure of how much he cares. He only knows that in order to believe in his ability to be a husband or father, for some reason, he must find Spencer.
Among the swirling depravity of society, the crippling panic of impending parenthood, and the mounting scrap heap of seventh grade essays, one Arkansas town sees two kids go missing. Ellis Mazer only wants to find one of them. And if he can pull that off, he might not ever become a good teacher, but he might at least become a good person.
I’m going to start this review with a simple statement: Matt Coleman is an exceptional writer. I’m not sure he’s an exceptional novelist quite yet, but his ability to paint a stunningly vivid picture of the boredom, hopelessness, brutality, honor, desperation, loyalty and beauty all wrapped up in a small rural town in Arkansas is gorgeous and heartbreaking at the same time. His characters are both honest and flawed with just the right amount of quirkiness to add a bit of depth and reality.
Now that I’ve heaped him with lavish praise, I also have to douse him with a splash of criticism:
All of these issues are nitpicky at best. In the end, Matt Coleman is the kind of self-published author book bloggers love to come across: a genuine writing talent with outlandish potential clearly evident even in his debut novel. I highly recommend Juggling Kittens and encourage everyone to keep eyes on Mr. Coleman. I know I’ll be watching for his follow up novel with eager anticipation.
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