“Timely, monumental, brilliant. … Spot on for these times of racial divide, as well as in portraying the fractious family dynamic that many of us know all too well. . . . Night deserves the top spot on your quarantine nightstand.” —Star Tribune
Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates is a captivating portrait of a family in modern-day America. When a horrific tragedy kicks off the almost eight-hundred-page story, I was immediately drawn in and I never looked back. Whitey, a well-known man in his 60s, observes a fight on the side of the highway. He pulls over to help. That’s when he realizes there are police officers beating up a black man. His intention is to stop the violence, yet upon his approach, the young, naive officers redirect their anger from their victim to Whitey, and zap him with a taser gun. When he drops to the ground and passes out, the violent officers call for medical attention and submit a false report stating Whitey was in a car accident where he sustained injuries. After several days, tragically, Whitey dies in the hospital.
This is where Oates’s expertise in modern American society and her gift for character development shine. Police brutality, racism, and the death of a patriarch set a powerful backdrop for Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. There is so much to examine in this novel and I truly got lost in it. We follow each member of Whitey’s family to see how they deal with his absence, getting to know and understand their relationships and personal struggles. Thom is the oldest brother and he is bossy and sarcastic. Virgil comes to terms with his sexuality in the absence of his judgmental father. Lorena recognizes her own bitterness and reckons with her lack of relationships. Beverly decides it is time to stand up for herself when it comes to her cheating husband. Sophia gives second thoughts to her career choice and her relationship with an older, married man. And Jessica, Whitey’s widow, chooses to enter into a very different relationship with an unexpected partner where she walks the line between feelings of love and happiness — and the desire to be dead along with her deceased husband.
Whitey’s expectations for his wife and children have less power now that he is gone, and there is desperation, relief, re-evaluation of life choices, freedom to express and live their best lives, vengeance, frustration, anger and support. Each family member has his or her own story and in the aftermath of Whitey’s death, their life paths change; they fall off track when it comes to their careers, marriages and relationships, and good or bad, their true selves emerge. We get to know them and understand their past and present actions, emotions and motives along with the family dynamics. Oates and her beautiful use of language make this story of corruption and justice a compelling portrait of a family in mourning.
Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. is available for purchase.