Stephens has written a novel that illuminates the slow decline and degradation of Middle America, a topic he clearly feels passionately about. . . . I recommend Miss Me When I’m Gone to anyone who is unafraid of facing an honest story that takes you deep into the world of struggling musicians, desperate mothers, meth addicts, sinful preachers, and an array of successes and failures that make up the realistic characters Stephens has created.
“Of the many kinds of middle-American weirdness, Missouri’s is underreported. Yet it’s a deep vein running beneath that hilly landscape, where bad things happen in trailers. [There] Philip Stephens finds . . . a gothic vibe. His Miss Me When I’m Gone is about a folk singer who tries to go home. Things get dark; there’s a “hog-eyed man.” Choice dialogue, from a parade: “‘We like them Shriners,’ the wife said, packing her cheek. ‘Those itty-bitty cars are something to see.’”
“Miss Me When I’m Gone is a lavishly written, vividly imagined, and wholly compelling work of fiction. Philip Stephens has an unfailing ear for the rhythms (and subtle treacheries) of human speech, which gives this book its unusual immediacy and power, as if the reader is eavesdropping on the life-or-death conversations of travelers on a train. I was spellbound. Often, in fact, I was in awe.”
“Lost and living by their wits, Philip Stephens’s wise and foolish people drift along the hardscrabble edges of America, some trying to escape the past, some to reclaim it. Miss Me When I’m Gone mixes the barbed language of Denis Johnson with the eternal verities of roots music. This is a rich and beautiful debut.”
“Philip Stephens knows a lot—about music, religion, the great midwest, life in a small town. What he knows the most about, however, is the plain old human heart. At various times throughout this elegant, moving first novel, he wrote scenes that broke mine, because I had come to care so much for the people I found in these pages. Stephens is a special writer, and this is a special book. I was sorry when it ended.”