Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Night Country by Stewart O'Nan

I've got to start doing these reviews immediately after I read because if I wait any longer I forget nearly everything. I liked O'Nan's The Speed Queen so well that I decided to read more of his work. This hasn't happened since Tawni O'Dell. Hmmm...O'Nan, O'Dell...must be something about the O's. Let me just go ahead and send out the disclaimer that, for this novel, I cannot remember any of the names - those are always the first to go in my reading memory.

In any case, here we have an entire cast of anti-heroes, which as you can imagine is just fine with me. In this scenario, the story surrounds one single event - a crash that results in the deaths of a group of teenage friends. The crash is technically an accident, but not completely. There were decisions that led fairly directly to the car versus tree (guess who wins) incident. There are two survivors, or three, if you count the police officer who chased the teens on what turns out to be their last night out trying to find some excitement in a boring small town. The other two remaining survivors are of course both left with tremendous scars, one from an emotional stand-point, the other from both a physical and mental stand-point (he is left with the capacity of a small child). Then again, if we extended the effects of the crash on to the family (parents) and friends of the victims, both living and dead, we could cast a wider net that collected several others operating in survival mode.

One thing that makes this story so interesting is the (here comes a cliche word of book reviews, brace yourself) unflinching way that the author approaches his topic. Neither the author nor his characters are sentimental in any way about the participants in the crash. And they were all participants, not just victims. No one became an angel or a hero simply because he or she died or was maimed or was (another cliche -->) changed forever by the crash.

Those who remain try to bring closure in different ways - the police officer, as you would expect, tries to understand and explain in detail exactly what happened that night, exactly where he went wrong, the one kid who survived mostly intact tries to offer himself as a sort of sacrifice, and the living friends of the departed, who were not even in the car that night but are pretty pissed off, try to exact their revenge.

The other thing that makes this story so interesting is the group of narrators. In a similar fashion to Holman's The Dress Lodger, this novel is narrated by the dead. The group of unlucky teenagers who died in the crash that night follow around the living main characters, observing, responding, filling in holes and criticizing the survivors and each other. What is particularly fascinating is the way that the ghosts are pulled around as they are summoned by various living characters in the text. Essentially, every time one of the living thinks of one of the dead, that spirit is pulled toward that person, to be with them. The dead have some autonomy, they are able to direct themselves as an individual or as a group to one scene or person in particular.

Overall, this is a well-written, sobering story. - 4 stars

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Okay the dead narrators did it for me. I'm adding this to my list.