Onyx reviews: The Night
Country by Stewart O'Nan
The Night Country looks like a horror novel. The chapter titles are taken
from famous horror movies and its dust jacket features blurbs from people like
Stephen King and Peter Straub, but it is a literary novel that deserves
comparison to The Lovely Bones. The story is told from the point of view of a
trio of ghosts, the revenants of three teenagers killed in a Halloween night car
accident. A year later, the town's collective memory brings Marco, Toe and
Danielle back to the community.
Their spirits are dragged from person to person as events bring them to mind
during the twenty-four hour period before the accident's anniversary. They can't
interact with people or things, but they have full access to the minds and
memories of living people. Marco narrates and acts as spokesperson for the three
ghosts, relating not only what they observe but also what his fellow spirits
There were five teens in the car that fateful night. One of the survivors was
completely uninjured—physically. Tim's girlfriend Danielle, who was sitting on
his lap in the back seat, shielded him from the impact before she was ejected.
The other, Kyle, suffered severe neurological damage and now functions at the
level of a mentally handicapped juvenile. His parents find themselves fondly
remembering the person he was before—a rebellious heavy-metal-loving drug
dealer. The specter of Kyle's former self appears to the ghosts, but they can't
interact or communicate with him.
A sixth man bears emotional scars from the accident: Brooks, the middle-aged cop
who was first on the scene. In the intervening year his job performance has
suffered greatly and he is obsessed with the accident, for reasons that will be
revealed over the course of the book. He's tempted to quit his job and move
away, but two things hold him in the suburban New England community—his ailing
grandmother and inertia. He's never lived anywhere else or done any other job
and it's late in life to start over.
As Halloween approaches, the ghosts spend most of their time with Brooks and
Tim, who has taken Kyle under his wing, driving him to and from work at the
grocery store. Brooks suspects that Tim has something planned for Halloween
night and juggles his regular duties with keeping a vigilant eye on the haunted
The Night Country is a poignant look at kind of mark the death of some of its
teenagers can have on a community. Everyone in the town is affected. Some choose
to observe the anniversary. Others, like Kyle's father, have found peace by
avoiding the issue completely and losing himself in his job.
The novel is only slightly more than two hundred pages long, but it's not a
quick read. Each word and sentence has been thoughtfully crafted and deserves
careful attention. Its dreamlike quality is tinged with the Bradbury-esque
nostalgia associated with Halloween. Marco and his ghostly companions free-flow
through Avon, yanked around at the whims of its residents. They see people at
their most vulnerable—sad, alone, and lost in the past.
Like Brooks' life, the book has a certain inertia that guides it toward the
inevitability of midnight. But the ghosts are on a mission, too. They have a
plan to help them find their own peace with what happened a year earlier. As
with The Lovely Bones, there can be no happy endings, for the dead remain so and
the living must choose to go on or give up.
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