With the quiet precision of Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres and the technical clarity of Mary Roach’s Stiff, this is a novel about a young woman who comes most alive while working in her father’s mortuary in a small, forgotten Western town.
"The dead come to me vulnerable, sharing their stories and secrets . . . "
Mary Crampton has spent all of her thirty years in Petroleum, a small Western town once supported by a powerful grain company. Living at home, she works as the embalmer in her father’s mortuary: an unlikely job that has long marked her as an outsider. Yet, to Mary there is a satisfying art to positioning and styling each body to capture the essence of a subject’s life.
Though some townsfolk pretend that the community is thriving, the truth is that Petroleum is crumbling away—a process that began twenty years ago when an accident in the grain elevator killed a beloved high school athlete. The mill closed for good, the train no longer stopped in town, and Robert Golden, the victim’s younger brother, was widely blamed for the tragedy and shipped off to live elsewhere. Now, out of the blue, Robert has returned to care for his terminally ill mother. After Mary—reserved, introspective, and deeply lonely—strikes up an unlikely friendship with him, shocking the locals, she finally begins to consider what might happen if she dared to leave Petroleum.
Set in America’s heartland, The Flicker of Old Dreams explores themes of resilience, redemption, and loyalty in prose as lyrical as it is powerful.
“Susan Henderson offers us the wondrous, sharp picture of the small town of Petroleum, Montana where the past comes back on two feet and a blizzard rages. The Flicker of Old Dreams is a fine novel, heartfelt and bracing company. It is a gem.”
“Susan Henderson’s The Flicker of Old Dreams is a clear-eyed, wise, and poignant tale of losses and gains, told with tremendous empathy and grace.”
“The Flicker of Old Dreams is at once a vivid and wildly compelling study of small town American life and an intimate and incisive exploration of the human condition, from love to loss and beyond.”
“Susan Henderson has secured her position as one of my favorite novelists. You won’t be able to turn away from this tender, elegiac and haunting novel that beautifully exposes the human heart, the human body, and the human condition.”
“This novel is so breathtakingly good, so exquisitely written. About a female mortician, about a childhood tragedy that still haunts a damaged young man, about the endless landscape and about those tiny sparks of possibility. Oh my God. Trust me. This book. This book. This Book.”
“A truly magnificent work of art. The soul energy that is pushing through this story is unstoppable, beautiful, vulnerable, powerful.”
“Like the wind scours paint from an old grain silo, Susan Henderson’s writing scours away all the pretend niceness of small town life in Montana to reveal the frayed and patched nature of humanity.”