Miss Elva begins with the young Elva and her sister Jane, exploring the facts and facets of their childhood. The reader sees the cruelty, or neglect of loved ones, the casual disdain of of others in the community, and is left with an irrevocable sense that the world of Elva is a hard world indeed.
A surpising element of the beginning is that the reader is treated immediately with the kowledge of what Elva thinks of herself. Certain passages go into darkly descriptive detail, outlining Elva's view of her own appearance. Though the community in general sees Elva as something different, the harshest judgements are Elva's own. Elva engages in an unceasing comparison of herself with her sister Jane, who personifies the personal beuty and grace that Elva completely lacks. One of the great ironies that Malone invokes within the novel is how Elva's view of herself and the world around her is nearly the polar opposite of the reality. Though Elva is physically deformed, she remains the novel's most beautiful character. Jane, though beautiful in every conventional sense, cannot properly finction with out the continued submission and worship of her sister Elva. Though the ulgy/beautiful theme is a bit of a cliche, to say the least, Malone uses it effectively enough that the reader does not have to notice it if the do not wish to. Every character in the novel is ugly, and every character in the novel is by turns, stupid, vain, greedy, and and so on. There is definite catlog of deadly sins being displayed through the main characters and folk of Demerett Bridge, but then, step outside and take a look around any neighbourhood. Things are probably not too much different.
A warning needs to be given for those who find themselve allergic to decidedly non-pc language. Miss Elva is a novel in which there are words that, though common in the time depicted, are today impossible for some to even read silently to themselves without adding a mental beep to blot them out. The use of this langauge is not egregious in any manner, and is enough an essential part of the text that only the most pedantic will object.
A comment I made to the author when interviewing him was that it felt as if Miss Elva were at times devoid of joy. There is to be no true redemption, comeuppance, or righteous reversal of fortune in the Disney sense. Instead there is the resolution of long unanswered questions, and the bittersweet realization that life is often determined by how we chose to percieve it, rather than how it is dealt to us. Stories such as this are useful reminders of the worst that could happen, and in doing so help us feel thankful for how things are. Conversely, they also have a tenedency to break our hearts, and leave us with a need to laugh, laugh without a dark tinge in the sound.