Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover (available in mass market), 225 pages, 1988
Reason for Reading: Mercy Among the Children was in my Top 10 of 2002, and I finally got around to trying another book by Richards.
Synopsis: In small-town New Brunswick, there’s no escaping your neighbours, your reputation, or yourself, much to the dismay of the inhabitants. The narration hops between characters, including Joe Walsh, a man struggling to overcome a drinking problem; his wife Rita, who ends up as a doormat because of her refusal to admit people might not have her best intentions in mind; and their daughter Adele, who’s so stuck on the idea of independence, she’s completely unable to reach out for help for fear of looking weak or uncertain.
Why you should read this book: Richards uses simple, to-the-point language to capture the characters at their most vulnerable, painfully naked moments, and for a forthright examination of the mixed feelings people have about each other. Nights is a brutally honest novel – it captures parents that are equally afraid of losing their children and just plain afraid of them, and teenagers who alternate between ruthlessness and neediness. It’s nice to read a book once and a while where the characters don’t analyze themselves to death, they just do things, right or wrong – and if it’s considered ‘wrong,’ it’s usually by outside parties, much like real life. Richards does a great job in letting older and younger characters mingle and narrate to see a great variety of opinions and personalities.
Why you should avoid this book: While it has its moments of hope, this book can get pretty depressing with all of the monetary hardships and issues such as alcoholism – your stereotypical “small-town people dealing with hard times” Canadian literature, in other words. You might want to avoid it if you’re in the mood for something cheerier, or if you like to read in-depth about just one character – especially in such a short book, there’s only so much involvement you can feel with each individual character when the narration duties are passed around so frequently.
It was the Christmas of 1972. A spruce tree was decorated in the corner of their living room against the pine-board wall. There was a smell of evening. Their house was below Station Street and down beyond the hospital.
Sometimes she saw her ex-husband but they always ended up fighting. Since her divorce, she had been alone now three years. At first she didn’t think she would be alone at all, but her friends seemed gone now and all the years had trampled over other years, and seemed to have gone by. She had lost her teeth in an automobile accident when she was twenty-two. She had never gotten used to that, and she was afraid to smile.
She had been a beauty queen at the annual exhibition and later she had gone on a trip – and what a trip it was. They saw Seaworld and Captain Marvel. And she thought she would always go on trips and see things. But now that was fifteen years ago. A train went by in the morning and one in the evening, and she had gotten so she would run to the back door and look at it. The trailer was close enough to the tracks that it shook. And her pains bothered her – she had a sore kidney, and sometimes when she thought she had to pee she didn’t at all.
As it happened, every six or seven months Myhrra would find new friends. And so, caught up with new friends, Myhrra didn’t come to the house very often. Sometimes, feeling obligated, she would drop in, sit down in the chair for a moment, and then she would be out the door after a cup of tea.
One always knows how a family feels towards you by how the children react to your presence. It was invariable that Adele and Milly were now scared stiff that Myhrra would leave once she got there, or that she would stay only a certain amount of time, or that Joe or Rita, who seemed to have no one coming in at all anymore, would do something to make her leave. Adele would always try to tell some jokes to lighten everyone up, and Milly would tell these jokes right after her. Myhrra would sit there listening, in her blue slacks and kerchief, and then, just at the punch line (or so it seemed to Adele), she would get ready to leave. No matter how fast she told her joke, or no matter what style she told it in, or no matter how Rita sat, Myhrra would (it seemed to Adele) be unable to get the punch line.
Also recommended: Empire Falls by Richard Russo; Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo; Affliction by Russell Banks; The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks.
Also by this author: The Lost Highway; The Friends of Meager Fortune; The Coming of Winter; Blood Ties; Dancers at Night; Lives of Short Duration; Road to the Stilt House; The Bay of Love and Sorrow; Mercy Among the Children; For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down; Hockey Dreams: Memories of a Man Who Couldn’t Play; Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace; River of the Brokenhearted; Lines on the Water; A Lad from Brantford: And Other Essays; Hope in the Desperate Hour; .
Fun tidbit: Ten years after winning the Governor General’s Award for Nights Below Station Street, Richards won the non-fiction award for Lines on the Water, making him one of only three people to win the GGA for both fiction and non-fiction.
Would I read more by this author? Hopefully I’ll get to the next book in this trilogy, Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace; also, River of the Brokenhearted has been on my tbr for a while.
Awards: Governor General’s Award: winner, 1988.
Â© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007