The night country

by Stewart O'Nan

Hardcover, 2003




New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.


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 who 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member davidabrams
Every small town in America has a tragedy that goes something like this: a car full of teenagers crashes on a dark road and young lives turn to legend. Maybe some live while others die horribly, maybe they're on their home from the prom, maybe they've been drinking, maybe they're stone sober and an
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evil patch of black ice is the culprit. Whatever the circumstance, the teen car crash is a sad part of our nostalgic culture. In death, the dead teens take on a grandeur and status they probably never enjoyed in life, their legacy a smiling yearbook photo and a small white cross erected by the side of the road. In the Wyoming town where I grew up, a sweet-faced girl, one year younger than me, died when her brakes failed on an icy turn less than two miles from her home. Even today, I can't picture that stretch of road without the words "snuffed out" coming to mind.

Avon, Connecticut knows all about brief candles prematurely snuffed. The town's latest tragedy took place on Halloween night when a Camry loaded with five teens wrapped itself around a tree on a country road, instantly killing three, leaving another severely brain damaged and the fifth miraculously unhurt. Now, exactly one year later, the town is painfully reliving the memory of that October night.

That's the premise for Stewart O'Nan's new novel, The Night Country, a tale that literally haunts the reader from page one. The story is narrated by the ghost of Marco, who died in the crash along with Toe and Danielle. The trio of spirits restlessly roams the town, watching over their parents, their friends, the police officer who responded to the crash and, especially the survivors, brain-damaged Kyle and unscratched Tim. In the course of the twenty-four hours covered by the novel, Brooks the cop will try to come to grips with decisions he made a year ago, while Tim will put into motion a plan he's been plotting for the past five months, an act he thinks will bring him peace and redemption. The ghosts serve as our guides and Greek chorus as we watch the day's events unfold. In O'Nan's hands, the sentences pop and crackle and are never less than enthralling:

Brooks remembers jumping out of the Vic and running for the tree and the Camry—unbelieving—and then stopping once he'd gotten there, his training evaporating at the sight of us. (Because the car was small and we weren't pretty.) His first instinct was to look around for someone else who could help. In the backseat a boy's voice was trying the same hurt vowel sound over and over, a cat meowing.

As in his masterful The Circus Fire, O'Nan displays an uncanny knack for describing common tragedy—there, the 1944 Hartford fire; here, the Halloween car crash which kills three teens nobody cared about while they were still alive (now, "we're the kids in that car wreck"). Like Ray Bradbury (to whom the book is dedicated and whose influence whispers across each page), O'Nan uses the horrible, chilling events of our lives to show how we humans continue to press on undaunted through this mortal coil. There's truth to be found on nearly every page of this book.

There's also a lot of damned fine writing. O'Nan's imaginative vision is intriguing, convincing us we're overwatched by ghosts—the just-killed and the long-dead, who haunt our steps, trail their foggy fingers through our heads. Parenthetically interrupting their narration, O'Nan's teenage ghosts are sardonic and wise ("One week we're history, martyred gods, then forgotten"), as if the afterlife has given them X-ray vision into the hearts of the living. Witness the book's hypnotic opening words:

Come, do you hear it? The wind—murmuring in the eaves, scouring the bare trees. How it howls, almost musical, a harmony of old moans….Come with us, out into the night. Come now, America the lovesick, America the timid, the blessed, the educated, come stalk the dark backroads and stand outside the bright houses, calm as murderers in the yard, quiet as deer. Come, you slumberers, you lumps, arise from your legion of sleep and fly over the wild woods. Come, all your dreamers, all you zombies, all you monsters. What are you doing anyway, paying the bills, washing the dishes, waiting for the doorbell? Come on, take your keys, leave the bowl of candy on the porch, put on the suffocating mask of someone else and breathe.

The Night Country drives relentlessly forward toward a conclusion that seems inevitable, though we wish it weren't so. As Tim and Brooks hurtle toward one final intersection, we secretly hope their paths will split and that everyone can go home—still unredeemed, yes, but also still alive.

Nonetheless, O'Nan is smart enough to know that very few things in life turn out the way we'd hoped, so why should fiction be any different? In The Night Country, just as in the world beyond books, there are impulsive, regrettable last-minute decisions. And there is the slippery road, the short yelp of brakes, the acrid whiff of burnt rubber and the sudden sad silence that continues to haunt long after the last chapter is written.
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LibraryThing member PAPatrick
Read everything by Stewart O'Nan. Well, everything but "The Speed Queen", perhaps. Like Cormac McCarthy, he has a way with deep topics. Perhaps O'Nan is a little more domestic in his choices, but he never lets you down.

My review is likely to make this novel sound like a YA book, but there's so
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much more going on here. It's an exercise in guilt and blame, happenstance and denial. A year ago, on Hallowe'en, five teenagers piled into a car, missed a curve and hit a tree. One survived whole and one, badly damaged; the others appear in the book from the narrative point of view of ghosts (not as bad as it sounds. . . ). There's also the cop who was following them and assorted townspeople. Various narrative 3rd-person points of view. At the heart is a mystery--how exactly did they miss the curve?--and an exercise in guilt, especially by the protagonist and sole whole survivor who intends to make it right, even things up, on the anniversary of his friends' death.
Spellbinding story. Interesting and believable narratives. A good read.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
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
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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
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LibraryThing member DaveFragments
A ghost story, ghosts abound. But, it is the inner ghosts that haunt nus, not the free-floating vaporous apparitions that stay behind.
LibraryThing member MrsHillReads
The aftermath of a Halloween tragedy haunts a New England town on the one-year anniversary of a typical teen joyride that ended with a car wrapped around a tree. Toe, Marco, and Danielle were instantly killed. Kyle lives on, sort of; a severe brain injury obliterates the rebel in him, the accident
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leaving him with the mind of a child. Tim, "the lucky one" in the backseat, his arms around Danielle, survived but now has a death wish. Officer Brooks, the first on the scene, was terribly altered by the event, and his life is in shambles. Now, on Halloween, he fears that Tim is going to do something horrible. Travis and Greg, buds of Toe, don't want the day to go by without memorializing their dear departed friends. At times this was confusing, it was hard to tell what was current or in the past. The shifting points of view is not my favorite type of writing; however, the story was a good one and I enjoyed reading it.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
O’Nan takes a typical small-town tragedy-a carload of teenagers crashes into a tree, killing three, leaving one permanently brain-damaged and one survivor obsessed with why he didn’t die-and transforms it into a haunting ghost story. Like the other two books I have read by this author, the time
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in which the story takes place is finite and very short, just the evening before and the day of the anniversary of the accident, which also happens to be Halloween. The three dead kids are forced as ghosts to hop from observing one person to the next, as the people whose lives were permanently disrupted by the tragedy think about them constantly and thus “call” them. The ghosts are helpless to do anything but watch as events unfold with a sense of inevitability, as their friend prepares to recreate that terrible night and the police officer who discovered them obsesses over an awful secret.

Two things prevented this book from getting more than an average rating from me. The first was that I found it to be a bit repetitive as the ghosts move from their friend Tim to the police officer, Brooks, to the mother of their damaged friend, Kyle (whom they refer to as Kyle’s mom). Since every moment of the night and day leading up to the anniversary is narrated, it feels like we’re wallowing in pain and maudlin tragedy — for me, it was a bit much. Also, I was disappointed and unsatisfied by the ending, which I won’t spoil here. But I felt like I needed something more to tie up the story for me.
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LibraryThing member jjsreads
Good for high schoolers.
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
Definitely dark and eerie - the perfect Halloween tale - but a little too introspective to really work. I could see a lot of the 'scenes' being made into a movie, especially the teenage ghosts, but the plot isn't strong enough or long enough to fill an hour and a half of film. Three kids killed in
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'car vs. tree' smash-up on Halloween return one year later to haunt the two survivors, their families, and the cop who caused the crash. The narrative is very realistic and emotional, if somewhat repetitive, and the characters visited by the ghosts are vividly drawn. I felt sorry for Kyle and his family, and Brooks the haunted cop, but the extent of my sympathy for the rest of the crew amounted to 'Well, at least you didn't take anyone else out with you'.
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LibraryThing member KristySP
Well, I read about 100 pages and gave up. O'Nan was trying for a unique narrative, told from the point of view of a dead teenager, but i just couldn't get into his rhythm. Alas.
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Five teens are out joy-riding on a Halloween night. The car, going too fast, leaves the road and slams into a tree. Three of the teens, Marco, Danielle and Toe, are killed, one, Kyle, is so damaged both physically and mentally that he will require constant care for the rest of his life, and the
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last one, Tim, emerges from the backseat uninjured but perhaps the most damaged of all.

It is a year later and Tim has had enough of life and thinks it’s time for both he and Kyle to join his girlfriend, Danielle and the others. The three dead teens return to follow their two friends on this important day. It is not apparent whether they are there to just observe, or if they are going to help Tim survive or even, if they are there to ensure that Tim dies. This was a difficult read for me. I am sure I am not alone in having experienced the loss of young teens in a horrific crash. My grand-niece who was the driver, went over the side of a mountain, there were three in the car and two, including my niece didn’t make it. So reading of the horror, the waste, the emptiness left behind was hard for me.

The story is narrated by one of the dead teens, Marco. As the three ghosts visit the people that they were close to when alive, the story of their death is revealed and the affect this had on members of the community such as the Kyle’s mother and the small town cop who was the first to arrive at the accident scene.

I found The Night Country to be a very powerful and moving read, Stewart O’Nan has become a favorite author and although this was a tough read, he allowed the story to unfold at a restrained pace that gave the reader time to understand that death has many victims. The Night Country is a modern ghost story that has moments of dark humor but very little in the way of chills so instead of being spooked, we are left with the lingering feelings of guilt and sorrow that this story evokes.
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Bram Stoker Award (Nominee — Novel — 2003)
International Horror Guild Award (Nominee — Novel — 2003)
Connecticut Book Award (Winner — Fiction — 2004)


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