Thursday, October 7, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Night Came with Many Stars by Simon Van Booy

In the depths of the previous surge of the pandemic, when things were locked down, there were a lot of online events that I wanted to attend. I wish I had sampled more of them while the opportunity was there. One of the events I did “attend” was an author talk at my local independent bookstore. Simon Van Booy spoke about his new novel, Night Came with Many Stars. It’s a literary family saga set in Kentucky. It’s primarily a historical novel, although there are interwoven time frames, some of which are more contemporary. 

The novel begins in 1933 with Carol, an adolescent girl, around thirteen or so, who lives out in the woods with her abusive alcoholic father. He is rotten through and through. Carol hasn’t been to school or church since her mother died. She scrapes by on her wits. One night, her father loses big in a poker game. With nothing left to gamble, he bets his daughter and loses. The winner gets to keep her on weekends as a cook and housekeeper. The reader sees where this will lead, hopes to be wrong, but isn’t. Carol escapes eventually, helped out by a man who knows her father and despises what he has done, who takes her to two women who run a backwoods abortion home. There she finds a makeshift family and some marginal security, though she lives in dread of her father coming to claim her.

A parallel plot to Carol’s is set in 1986 and tells the story of Samuel, a kind-hearted boy, and his best friend, Eddy. Samuel has two parents and a developmentally delayed uncle, and the love and support in that family is palpable. They even have it in their hearts to be kind to Eddy, but the boy, raised by a single mother who is flighty and unreliable, cannot catch a break. He gets into trouble again and again. Samuel goes through a rough patch where he almost self-destructs due to a family curse of alcoholism, but gets back on track. (Weird scene here that was the only part of the story that didn’t ring true, IMO.)

There are other characters too, all interesting and all playing a role in the overall story. An omniscient narrator provides vignettes–slices of life-- until the lives of the characters intersect. The writing is beautiful and the storyline is ultimately redemptive. Over time, (it takes generations), the goodness in people overcomes the evil. Even though there are no magical cures for very real difficulties, there is hope.

Thank you to Carmichael’s Bookstore for introducing me to this author!

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