Synopses & Reviews
In Josh Emmons's inventive and utterly engaging debut, ten residents of Eureka, California, are brought together by a mysterious man, Leon Meed, who repeatedly and inexplicably appears in the ocean, at a local rock music club, clinging to the roof of a barreling truck, standing in the middle of Main Street's oncoming traffic and then, as if by magic, disappears.
Young and old, married and single, punk and evangelical, black, white, and Korean, each witness to these bewildering events interprets them differently, yet all of their lives are changed by the phenomenon itself, and by what it provokes in them. And whether they in turn stagger toward love, or heartbreakingly dissolve it, Emmons's portrayal of their stories is strikingly real and emotionally affecting.
"In his affecting but meandering debut, Emmons explores how the lives of a loosely connected group of residents of Eureka, Calif., are changed by the sudden, mysterious appearances (and disappearances) of a local man who's been reported missing. From teenage Lillith, the pregnant, practicing Wiccan, to 'black as he can be' Prentiss, a recovering alcoholic, and Elaine, the fourth-grade teacher who suffers through two troubled marriages, each character visited by Leon Meed receives equal narrative treatment by Emmons, which highlights his talent for subtle ventriloquism but gives the book its curiously unfocused quality. Even Leon's bewildering plight stays somehow on the periphery; barring an unsuccessful pagan ceremony designed to pull him back from the astral plane, no one much tries to help him. Halfway into the book, Emmons, in a flurry of exposition, goes through the backstory about how Leon started disappearing after the accidental death of his wife and daughter. The novel then skips ahead 10 years, returning to each character as they learn of Leon's death. While Leon is supposed to be a catalyst for each character's personal enlightenment, too many self-discoveries from too many people keep their stories from fully resonating. This is a promising debut that suffers from its outsized ambitions. Agent, Susan Golomb. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In an imaginative and eminently readable debut, Emmons binds together a roster of strangers in a weirdly likable tale of the supernatural....A sparkling and witty debut." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"It is sometimes difficult to keep track of the large cast....Still, Emmons shows considerable flair in his striking ability to give his whimsical premise such philosophical overtones." Booklist
"From the most unlikely of circumstances a man who has come unstuck in time Emmons constructs a story that is both wholly original and poignantly familiar. Part mystery, part meditation on longing, part love story, The Loss of Leon Meed is a gripping, evocative, heart-wrenching novel." Alison Smith, author of Name All the Animals
"As remarkable and moving a portrait of America as I have seen in some time. Through a large cast of affecting characters, Josh Emmons pieces together the emotional life of a small city with a wit and range that recalls Robert Altman's 'Nashville.' Mature yet playful, fanciful yet brimming with the details of contemporary life, The Loss of Leon Meed leaves us with an odd feeling of hard-won hope. The hope that in our society kindness and reason may one day prevail." Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook
"What a pleasure to be welcomed to a brand-new world. Josh Emmons's Eureka, mapped with well-chosen details and a sympathetic eye, is populated by terrific characters whose quests for love, faith and mystery interlock with delicate grace and humor. I enjoyed them all, especially the enigmatic Leon Meed. His loss is our gain." Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil
Emmons pens a highly imaginative debut novel about a town full of varied characters whose lives converage and change when they encounter a mysterious, disappearing man.
About the Author
Born in 1973, Josh Emmons was raised in Northern California and received an MFA and teaching fellowship from the University of Iowa. He recently won the James Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, which counts Michael Cunningham, Ann Patchett, Elizabeth McCracken, Ethan Canin, Nathan Englander, Adam Haslett, and Ann Packer as former winners. He lives with his wife in New Orleans.
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Group Guide for The Loss of Leon Meed
1) The characters in the book who witness Leon Meed's appearances and disappearances all have very different reactions to, and interpretations of, what they see. What do their reactions and analyses of the mysterious events tell us -- and them -- about who they are and how they think about themselves and the world?
2) At one point toward the end we learn that Leon's doctors have a practical, medical explanation for his "transportations," but Emmons leaves the true explanation up in the air. What do you think is the true explanation? Was it simply mental illness? Was it magic? Something in between?
3) If the characters' different interpretations of Leon's appearances/disappearances can give us insight into the kinds of people they are, what does your own answer to the last question say about you?
4) The town of Eureka, where the story is set, gets a great deal of attention in the book. What is the significance of its name? Do you see any parallels between the life of the town and the evolution of these characters?
5) Human relationships -- from friendship to marriage -- are an important theme in the book. Discuss how the various characters come together and drift apart, and why. What do the past and current marriages of Steve and Elaine reveal about them? How are Eve's rejection of love and Prentiss's pursuit of it reconciled in the end? Finally, what connections do you see between the events of these relationships and the appearances/disappearances of Leon Meed?
6) How is religion presented throughout the novel? What role does it play for characters such as Lilith, Shane and Eve? Do the various religions discussed (Mormonism, Christianity, Wicca) share anything in common?
7) Why do you think Leon creates and then bequeaths the statues? What do they represent?
8) In what ways is Shane different from other characters in the book? What are his main motivations? Why do you think Leon Meed appears to him and what effect does this have? Does Shane have any redeeming qualities? How does he bring morality into the story? What is your overall opinion of Shane?
9) Why do you think Leon is unable to remember Elaine well enough to finish her statue? What is the significance of his revelatory letter to her? What does he mean in the following excerpt:
I know what truth is -- that we lose everything we're given. Even our own lives. But some of us can act beyond that inevitability -- like my wife, like you.
Do you agree with his perception of Elaine?
10) Several characters experience some kind of loss in the course of the book. Discuss how death and grief are presented using specific examples such as Eve losing Ryan, and Leon losing his wife and daughter. What other kinds of loss do we see in the story? How does loss help connect the characters?
11) In what other ways are the novel's characters interconnected, both literally and figuratively? Is there more than Leon that brings them together? What is the meaning of these connections?
12) Each character grapples with Leon Meed's presence in their lives. Do you see a difference in how they think about him when they're alone, versus when they're talking about him with others?
13) In the epilogue we return to see Leon's wife and daughter during their final hours alive. What do you think these two characters symbolize? Is the perspective significant here -- that we see them directly, and not through Leon?
14) Who do you think is the most memorable character? Why?