Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: “The Night Country” by Stewart O’Nan, Bloomsbury, 2003, 229 pages.

I saved this one for October because of the Halloween backdrop and like Halloween as a ‘holiday’ this novel is shrouded in controversy.

The plot involves a fatal auto accident where three of five teenagers die; one survivor escapes
unharmed and another suffers a crippling brain injury. This is the basis of what sold this book; it was a modern ghost story, a 21st century ghost story yet it is paced as a Gothic ghost story; slow, dark, bleak and actually quite depressing.

Both Peter Straub and Stephen King lent their names to the book jacket singing the novel’s praises yet historically this work has received mixed and tepid reviews. O’Nan himself later stated the novel, dedicated to Ray Bradbury, was ‘goofily plotted’ making one believe that even he was not happy with the finished product.

It wouldn’t be the first time a writer, editor and publisher conspired to create an at odds and less than enthusiastic product, just Google Richard Matheson, Logan Swanson and ‘Earthbound’.

This being said the plot is predictable; but so are many others. The twists are not unexpected; but so are many others. But what sets this novel apart from the pack and what sets O’Nan’s writing ahead of the class are his characters and their dialogue.

The feel of this book is real, hard and emotional. The guilt carried by the police officer isn’t staged or forced. The use of the narrator, whose identity is easy to figure out, is authentic. For all of its faults, “The Night Country” is a good and solid read all around. If you are a writer pay attention to how O’Nan creates and fortifies his characters; pay special attention to the ease of the dialogue, and; if you are a reader just sit back and watch the marriage of styles, old and new, to create a good ghost story that packs emotion.

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