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The Night Country: A Novel by Stewart O'Nan

The Night Country: A Novel (2003)

by Stewart O'Nan

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This is an unusual ghost story, told by a dead teenager, one of three killed in a Hallowe'en night car crash in a small New England town. Two other high school friends survived the collision with an old sycamore tree, but naturally their lives, and those of friends and family, have been irrevocably altered. The mother of one of the survivors, a boy who suffered extensive facial injuries and brain damage, must learn how to cope with this "new" son, a young man more difficult to care for, but possibly easier to love than the rebellious youth he once was. The first police officer on the scene of the deadly crash wrestles with his own personal demons and secrets, while he tries to decide where his life will go now. And Tim, the survivor who walked away from the accident virtually unscathed, physically, has lost himself with the death of his friends. We meet all these damaged souls on the first anniversary of the tragedy, as various plans and intentions come together to bring about a fitting commemoration. Although the ghosts do not communicate directly with survivors, they visit and watch, occasionally rousting an animal from the bushes, or causing a glitch on a TV screen. They have very limited power to do much, and it is suggested that their "presence" is often merely a subconscious memory in the minds of the living. Yet they talk to each other, and they convey information to the reader in short parenthetic interruptions of the narrative. This stylistic element took some getting used to, but like Shirley Jackson or Stephen King at his best, O'Nan had a grip on my imagination and curiosity from the beginning. There was no way I was going to leave without knowing (Oh, OK, I sort of knew all along) how it all turned out.
February 2017 ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Feb 13, 2017 |
Here’s a quick synopsis: A year prior on Halloween, a car with five teenagers caught the attention of a patrol officer and tried to outrun him. The officer gave chase and the car crashed, killing three of the teenagers inside, gravely injuring one, while one walked away with few injuries. Marco, Danielle and Toe (real name Christopher) died. Marco is narrating this book while Danielle and Toe serve as a sort of third-person Greek chorus, chiming in with opinions and dark humor when they feel the need. Kyle suffered brain damage that rendered him child-like, and his mother is trying to hold on to hope now that she has a son who will be mentally a grade-school boy the rest of his life. Tim, who sustained no harm in the wreck, is groping through as he grimly plans to recreate that terrible night as best he can this Halloween. Brooks, the cop who gave chase in dangerous conditions, has lost everything – the esteem of his fellow officers, his wife left him and he is being forced out of his home because he can no longer afford it. Brooks senses that Tim is not going to let the first anniversary of the accident pass without some dark action but has become so uneven at performing his job that the reader has no idea how (and if) he can help Tim come out the other side of Halloween.

This book is a traditional ghost story, in a way, in that the dead come back to comment on the living, but this is a ghost story full of meta. The ghosts know they are ghosts and at times find the whole thing very tiresome but they have no choice in the matter – when the living invoke their memory, they are summoned and they cannot refuse. The three dead teenagers find themselves being pulled all over town the Halloween the year after their death and sometimes it’s miserable and sad, but sometimes the teens snark on the nature of being a ghost, invoking Dickens’ Marley, moaning and rattling metaphorical chains. But the teenagers know the fallout their deaths have caused Tim and Brooks. They also know how their deaths affect Kyle’s mother because she’s been faced with a death of her own – the black-jean-and-leather-jacket-wearing son she raised, the rebellious boy who listened to death metal, is now a shuffling, clumsy teenager who needs supervision constantly. He can’t even tie shoelaces anymore and must use velcro sneakers. He has a part time job at a supermarket that he maintains because he and Tim work together and Tim supervises him closely. But Kyle also must ride the special education bus, is gaining weight at a rapid clip and it can be said the old version of him died in that car Halloween a year ago. But his mother knows three families lost their child and feels that she must feel grateful because her child lived, even though she knows, really, that he died, too.

Tim especially feels disembodied in his life. Danielle was his girlfriend and because she wanted to sit in his lap that night the two of them moved to the backseat. Had he remained in the front seat, he would have died. Instead Danielle was thrown from the car and Tim doesn’t have a single visible scar remaining of that night. But his psychic scars tell him in no uncertain terms that he and Kyle should have died that night and is on a mission to set right that cosmic oversight. He’s going through the motions and no one but Brooks seems to understand that Tim is not okay, that he is not handling all of this well, that he needs far more from his parents than they realize, but Brooks has issues of his own. His entire life has fallen apart because he blames himself for what happened that night and so do many others.

You can read my entire discussion here: http://www.oddthingsconsidered.com/the-night-country-by-stewart-onan/ ( )
  oddbooks | Oct 28, 2016 |
The Night Country by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 2003. This is a ghost story, but the ghosts, the three teens - Marco, Toe, and Danielle - who died a year ago in the accident the story hinges on, are simply observers of the living. Marco is the narrator. The three people whose actions they follow closely are Tim, the only unharmed survivor of the crash, Brookes, the cop who was first on the crash scene, and Kyle's mom, the mother of the brain-damaged teen. O'Nan's descriptions are, as usual, exquisite, and he sets the tone perfectly. Rating: 5; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/
( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
One year ago on Halloween a terrible car accident involving 5 teens from the small town of Avon, CT, changed many lives forever. Danielle, Chris (Toe), and Marco all died at the scene while Kyle suffered head, facial and brain trauma, and Tim escaped unharmed but psychologically damaged. John Brooks, a police force veteran, was the first on the scene and has suffered deep guilt over the circumstances. Now on the anniversary of the accident the spirits of the three dead teens have returned to Avon to revisit loved ones and to watch over Tim who has his own plans to mark the date. The story slowly unfolds as Kyle's parents deal with their mentally challenged son, or Kyle's mother deals with him as dad is absent as much as possible. Tim deals with his survivor's guilt as his parents try to avoid anything that might upset him. Officer Brooks life and career has suffered greatly; his wife has left him and his job performance has become less than stellar. Two teenage boys who were friends of the 5 have taken it upon themselves to revenge the deaths and their anger has focused on Brooks. His role in the accident is revealed near the end of the story and the finale is both inevitable and horrifying.

This is the first book I have read by O'Nan and I enjoyed his writing style very much. The entire story takes place in a 24 hour period, with flashbacks to the accident, and I just could not stop reading because it was obvious that there was more to the car crash than a group of joyriding teens. I will definitely read more by this author in the future.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
Like Jonathan Lethem & Michael Chabon, O'Nan here gives a literary gloss to genre fiction. And O'Nan mutes the horror-novel overtones of his story to follow a sort of mystery-novel structure (peeling back various narrative layers to finally reveal what happened That Night). In addition to all of this, a neo-Americana atmosphere underlies everything: Norman Rockwell meets Ray Bradbury meets the 21st century. - Adam
  stephencrowe | Nov 11, 2015 |
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"Is it possible to feel love for a sidestreet without sidewalks? For parked cars and wooden houses?" Theodore Weesner
"I hate myself and want to die." Kurt Cobain
For Ray Bradbury
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Come, do you hear it?
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Book description
Haiku summary
Broken survivors
Cop haunted by ghosts, secrets
Will they all make it?

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312424078, Paperback)

One year following their deaths in a late-night car accident, teenagers Danielle, Marco, and Christopher return, in spirit, to the sleepy New England suburb of Avon. Over the course of the evening, the three will drift into and out of the lives of those who knew and were affected by them. None is more affected than Tim, survivor of the crash, who plots a grisly act of remembrance, and Brooks, the well-intentioned police officer who first discovered the crash and whose life has changed in startling ways since.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:57 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A ghost story that begins in everyday tragedy, from a distinctly American master of both forms: a "scary, sad, funny ... mesmerizing read" (Stephen King) At Midnight on Halloween in a cloistered New England suburb, a car carrying five teenagers leaves a winding road and slams into a tree, killing three of them. One escapes unharmed, another suffers severe brain damage. A year later, summoned by the memories of those closest to them, the three that died come back on a last chilling mission among the living. A strange and unsettling ghost story in the tradition of Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson, The Night Country creeps through the leaf-strewn streets and quiet cul-de-sacs of one bedroom community, reaching into the desperately connected yet isolated lives of three people changed forever by the accident: Tim, who survived yet lost everything; Brooks, the cop whose guilty secret has destroyed his life; and Kyle's mom, trying to love the new son the doctors returned to her. As the day wanes and darkness falls, one of them puts a terrible plan into effect, and they find themselves caught in a collision of need and desire, watched over by the knowing ghosts. Macabre and moving, The Night Country elevates every small town's bad high school crash into myth, finding the deeper human truth beneath a shared and very American tragedy. As in his highly-prized Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying, once again Stewart O'Nan gives us an intimate look at people trying to hold on to hope, and the consequences when they fail.… (more)

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