Saturday, June 23, 2012

Little Night

Little Night
Luanne Rice
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Available June 5, 2012
336 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

Let's say your sister is married to a man who hurts her. Not only does he physically abuse her, he isolates her from her sister and parents. He is hateful. And let's say that one day you go visit your sister and her two children, and one of the children says that Daddy sometimes hurts Mommy. So you beg your sister to leave - you will protect her and the children. Just as you're leaving, here comes the husband. He clamps his hand around your sister's throat and throws her against a wall. What do you do?

In the case of Clare Burke, she attacks her brother-in-law. Unfortunately, she doesn't kill him. She merely hurts him, and has to spend two years in prison for assault. When she gets out, she has Paul, the love of her life, as well as her job. For the ensuing eighteen years, she lives. Perhaps not with great joy or fulfillment, and certainly with no relationship with her sister Anne. And then one day, Anne's daughter, Grit, shows up on Clare's doorstep. Grit has her own sadnesses and secrets, and as the two women grow closer, they help each other heal from the hurts imparted by Anne. They also come to believe that Anne is in New York as well.

This is a pretty simple story of several complex characters, especially Clare, Grit and Anne. Luanne Rice keeps a good pace and creates sympathetic characters in Clare, Grit and Paul. (Oh, Paul - I love him. He's just a good guy, and you don't often come across fictional men who are purely good.) Anne is not so sympathetic, although I think we are supposed to empathize with her. But I didn't. Perhaps that is due to insufficient explanation of why she allowed her husband to cut her off from her sister and parents. And Frederik, the husband. He is almost a caricature of the Angry, Abusive Spouse.

Fortunately, though, we have Clare. There are blanks where she is concerned; she alludes to the terrors of prison life, but aside from a weight gain and poor skin, we are told nothing about it. She distances us from that experience, but perhaps that's how she survived the experience. I don't think it's an accident that Clare spends her life following birds: this is a woman who knows what it's like to be caged in and what it's like to be set free. That she wants to believe that an extinct bird continues to exist makes sense. She wants to know that her sister, extinct to Clare for twenty years, is alive and well.

Paul, who has loved her since high school, believes Clare is worth fighting for and will do anything to make her happy. But first he needs to convince Clare that she deserves to be happy.

Love and hope. For Clare they hadn't gone together in years. Her skin rippled. Paul was somewhere in the park. She knew the way an owl, gliding low over hills, senses her mate without hearing his call. He'd be doing his Urban Park Ranger duties, along the way keeping watch for the Whekau. Although he didn't believe in the bird the ay she did, he had his own reasons for wishing a vanished species could someday come back.

Luanne Rice takes some shortcuts in this book, not just with Anne and Frederik, but with Grit as well. Grit is able to pull herself together with alarming alacrity, which is frustrating because Grit, of all people, ought to need more time. In fact, the treatment of Grit is the reason I can't give this book more than three cupcakes. I feel cheated by her rapid healing.

Yet I do think Little Night is a good book. Not great, not fabulous, but good. It is a very quick read, and Clare is worth getting to know.

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