Leon Meed spelled backwards is Noel Deem. Coincidence? Prentiss Johnson, a recovering alcoholic who works at the public library, doesn't think so. Over cream pie with Steve, an orthopedic surgeon going through a divorce, he says, "Maybe Leon's the mysterious thing in a way made us be friends. Like maybe we saw him disappear so later on we'd sit in this cafeteria here and I'd tell you how to save your marriage and you'd tell me to hold out for love. You know, like there's a purpose to it all." In The Loss Of Leon Meed, Josh Emmons explores that sentiment 10 times over, as various Northern Californians respond to the odd plight of the title character. Emmons' assured prose evokes a drifting sense of desperation, laced with a humor born of groundless hope. While the novel's concept gets stretched a bit thin, Emmons' ability to speak convincingly in multiple voices enchants to the very end.

The mysteriously appearing and disappearing Meed encounters diverse Eureka residents in the strangest places. He materializes in the ocean, in a girl's bedroom, at a bar, in a rock-concert crowd, on top of a moving truck. A teenage Wiccan confidently casts a midnight spell to bring his soul back from the astral plane. An aspiring Korean entrepreneur tries to have himself committed after a visit from Leon, whom he takes for a schizophrenic hallucination. An aggressively Christian cemetery-plot salesman accuses Leon of costing him a sure sale. A self-hating gay man in denial goes to a home-accents party to meet girls, and winds up trying to explain it all to Leon. Each character carries on an internal dialogue about the almost superhuman effort it takes to change, and the frustrating reality that personal growth is dependent on other people. Prentiss' story illustrates the theme best; he acquires a new AA sponsor who advocates confronting temptation head-on by sitting at a bar and holding a shot glass filled to the brim. Whether he likes it or not, Prentiss has little choice but to trust his fragile sobriety to Alvin's strange methods.

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At the heart of The Loss Of Leon Meed, Leon takes over for a chapter to tell his own story—and it's a terrifying tale. His system for coping with the loss of his wife and daughter unsticks him from time and space, dooming him to wander among the desperate citizens of Humboldt County. Emmons writes hauntingly of people's efforts to orient themselves and organize their worlds by acts of human will. In the end, though, Leon's stumble through time and space seems to have been mere coincidence. "Why does it have to mean something?" Steve asks. Prentiss can only answer, miserably, "It just does."