The unnamed narrator of Where Night Stops finds himself wandering aimlessly throughout the United States after his parents in Iowa die. His travels lead him to a homeless shelter in Seattle, Washington. There he meets Ray-Ray, who gives him as a job as a courier. His deliveries are odd and convoluted, but the money is good, so he doesn’t question it. As the jobs become increasingly more dangerous, he begins to realize he may be in too deep and looks to get out.
“During one youth-group meeting, his son made everyone kiss the blade of a hatchet while he explained that our own birth and death were the only two things we could truly call our own.
“But he was wrong. His father was proof. I was proof. Your death is owned by family, friends, and creditors, the people left with the burden created by your absence.”
Where Night Stops is a mixture of a noir crime tale and a coming of age story. The narrative moves between the present, in which the unnamed protagonist encounters a strange woman in a bar, flashes back to his misadventures making deliveries all over the world, and flashes back even further to his childhood. The out-of-order narrative here works very well. It remains coherent, yet keeps the reader just as confused as the protagonist often is. He never learns exactly for what purpose he’s hauling packages and money all over the world and neither does the reader. It makes you feel his lack of a sense of direction.
Identity is the main theme of the book. As mentioned before, the narrator remains unnamed. Throughout the book, he takes on various aliases, including the name of his childhood friend and the name of a man that he murders. There is one point where, during a heated moment, Higgles, the man who assigns him his jobs, forgets his own alias. This fuels his already growing distrust of Higgles. Later, the narrator is confronted by the strange woman who calls him by his real name. This makes him realize that he hasn’t been referred to by it for years.
The identity confusion extends even beyond his name. At one point, the narrator enters into a relationship with a woman named Sarah. As deeply as he feels for her, he can’t bring himself to settle down with her. He feels that he has to remain the wandering courier for higher level criminals, that he’s incapable of settling down. When he breaks up with her, he finds himself regretting it more than anything. When he finally looks to cut himself off from his criminal career for good, he tries to go back to her. After finding that she’s moved on and is seeing someone else, he realizes he has no other reason to go straight and returns to Higgles for more jobs.
While the narrator acts believably through most of the book, there are times when he makes bafflingly idiotic decisions that confused me. For example, after his parents die toward the beginning, he inherits their house. Instead of simply selling it, he decides to burn it down in an insurance scam. He immediately regrets destroying the house and doesn’t get the insurance money because the investigation determines that he committed the arson. I can’t figure out exactly why he tried this scam other than being a dumb, impulsive young man at this point.
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Where Night Stops is a well-crafted and entertaining literary crime novel. It maintains a balance of action, mystery, and insight into the narrator's psychology. It's a look into trying to find connections when one loses their roots and trying to find one's own independent identity. I recommend this book, especially to fans of unconventional crime stories.
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