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[411] The Night Country – Stewart O’Nan

” Didn’t I tell you? There’s a reason we call on you, why this night comes again and again, bad dream within a dream. You think it’s torture but you know it’s justice. You know the reason. You’re the lucky one, remember? You live. ” (Something Wicked, p.7)

My first Stewart O’Nan novel, unexpectedly, turns out to be a timely ghost story set in a quaint, sleepy town in New England on Halloween. Midnight on Halloween, while the town of Avon sleeps, three prank-happy ghosts come back to haunt the survivors of a terrible car accident that claimed their lives a year ago. Danielle, Toe, and Marco return in spirit to keep watch over three unlucky, and emotionally wrought souls. They observe their thoughts, drift in and out of the fringes of their consciousness, and taunt them with eerie déjà vus.

The road’s invitation to revisit it, another opportunity to pay tribute and admit what rules their lives, and for that reason they have to pass, let it slide by as if it means nothing. (Day of the Dead, p.116)

Tim is a survivor of the crash. He is still the quiet kid that he was before the accident, except the teenager has drained out of him. He matures quickly over time and takes care of Kyle, who also survived but underwent face reconstruction surgery. While Kyle exists in an ambulatory twilight of severe brain injury, Tim contemplates a grisly act of remembrance as the first anniversary approaches. By the same twist of fate, Kyle’s mother has gravitated to anxiety over her son’s future. Will he outlive her? The accident and its aftermath have drifted her away from her husband. She feels separated from the town, which itself is swept by grief and guilt. Then there is Brooks, the well-intentioned police officer who first responded to the crash, and whose life is in shambles. Memory falls on him like weight, his conscience purged.

There are moments we don’t show you, things we leave out for our reasons. (Mercy, Spirit, show me no more!) Danielle’s sisters have called her all day, our parents and grandparents have summoned us one by one. There’s nothing we can do for them. By now you’ve figured it out: We’re visitors, our powers limited. (Halloween, p.174)

The ventriloquism makes it a funny read; but The Night Country is an intense, spooky, and sad ghost story with a contemporary setting. The pranky ghosts return for justice, but they only exist as long as they are remembered. The sad part is the expired pledging to remember them forever. As the ghosts flit in and out of the narrative, banality of small town life affords a glimpse to how people cope with loss: denial, avoidance, separation, urgency to nail a scapegoat, justification, explanation. The memory of the survival is much longer than the loss. As the novel somersaults toward a tragic end, I realize the book is more chilling than spooky, for it explores and plumbs the darkness of suburban dystopia.

229 pp. Softcover. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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6 Responses

  1. This sounds phenomenal. I have heard that generally about O’Nan. Like I said on Twitter, I have Emily, Alone on my iPod that I will be listening to soon. It will be my first, (but hopefully not last) experience with the author.

    • The voices are what make this novel. O’Nan really asserts himself being a ventriloquist. It would be the perfect book to listen because of the theme and the different voices in the narratives.

  2. I want that one. Sounds brilliant. Thanks. As usual a good book referral.

  3. Welcome to the Stewart O’Nan fan club! I’m adding this one to my list, too. Can’t wait to hear what you think of Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone.

    • I’m indebted to you for discovering O’Nan. I’m enjoying Snow Angels right now and a monumental tragedy that took place at exactly half way through the book. I’m looking forward to reading Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone in about three weeks. 🙂

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