Ky. — More than 100 pages into her first attempt at a
novel, Holly Goddard Jones realized it was a failure.
pretty unhappily decided to scrap it," says Jones,
33, an assistant professor of English at University of
North Carolina at Greensboro. "I had invested a lot
of time into it, and I was really disappointed."
when one of her students submitted a story about a boy
who went missing in the forest, Jones began recollecting
about her own childhood in Russellville, Ky.,
particularly her fascination with the wooded areas
between the town’s working-class subdivisions.
would go ride my bike and go into these little wooded
areas, and I thought they seemed kind of wild and
exciting," Jones says. "I was kind of scared
and I thought maybe something bad would happen like in a
horror movie, like I would stumble upon a dead
is exactly what happens in the opening chapter of Jones’
debut novel, "The Next Time You See Me"
novel has been well-received since its release last
month. The New York Times called it
"impressive" and said Jones "has a
precise eye and empathy to burn, bringing each of her
many characters to well-rounded life." Gillian
Flynn, author of the blockbuster best-seller "Gone
Girl," called it "an astoundingly good novel
... simply mesmerizing."
Jones’ 2009 book of short stories, "Girl
Trouble," The Next Time You See Me" takes
place in the fictional town of Roma, Ky., not so
secretly modeled after places such as Russellville.
in 1993 — before the 24-hour news cycle and the
Internet — "The Next Time You See Me"
revolves around the mystery of a missing woman and
explores the surprising ways different townspeople are
connected to her.
books shares some elements of the crime-solving mystery
genre, but it also is a multinarrative literary portrait
of the inner lives of ordinary folks — folks Jones
grew up with, folks you might meet in a small-town
grocery store or gas station.
"ordinary" does not mean
interested in ordinary people and I just take for
granted that they lead interesting inner lives,"
have always been very interested in writing about
characters who do bad or unfortunate things and then try
to see the humanity in them and to empathize with them.
I’ve made that my project to such an extent that a lot
of times people end up feeling really sympathetically
for characters who do horrible things."
empathetic embrace of the darker side of her characters
— along with her intimate familiarity with the
real-life counterpart to the book’s setting — allows
her to critique social injustices including racism,
gender inequality and classism, undercurrents woven
throughout the book.
fact that the missing woman, Ronnie, is known to be a
drunk who "gets around" means the police are
more keen to shrug off her disappearance than to conduct
a massive search.
the victim a little, and the narrative changes,"
Jones said in a March interview with the well-respected
online reading magazine Bookslut. "There are
insinuations about the woman’s share of the blame.
With Ronnie, I was imagining what would happen if a
discarded woman was so on the fringe of the community
that she wasn’t even registered at first as lost. Only
her sister really cares, and even that sister has
resentments and grievances that complicate her
credits her working-class upbringing in a small town as
a boon personally and professionally, though she didn’t
always see it that way.
was a time when I felt a certain amount of resentment
about it and then I think that transitioned into a kind
of pride," Jones says.
grew up in the kind of working-class household where
there wasn’t a lot of excess or luxury, but I never
palpably felt need: I had a stable home, I wasn’t
hungry. I knew my parents were there for me and they
loved me," Jones says. "It really prepared me
in the best possible way for being an adult."
also gave her insight as a writer.
always been very important to grant my characters
dignity and intelligence, and a lot of the portrayals of
working-class characters depict them as pitiable and
unintelligent," she says. "A person who is not
bringing home that much money and lives in a crummy
house still feels love and anguish, and is hungry for
beauty and connection, and it is important for me to