Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: Night Road

Night Road
Night Road by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With audio books, I listen to them in the car while I drive around throughout my work day. With this book, though, I had to take it inside to finish listening to it on headphones. Not only was the last third of the book so compelling I didn't want to wait another day to finish it, but I was afraid it would make me cry, and I didn't want to explain red, puffy eyes to my co-workers.

The story starts off with the establishment of a friendship between Mia Farraday and Alexa Baill. Mia's twin brother, Zach, has a crush on Lexi, but keeps it to himself for the same reason Lexi hides her crush on Zach: they're both worried it'll upset Mia. When they finally do realize their mutual feelings for one another, Mia turns out to be a much smaller problem than Jude, their mother. Then tragedy strikes, changing their relationships for good.

The tragedy comes in within the first third of the book, and the remainder of the story is aftermath. The middle third of the book sags a bit, because you have characters mired in grief, which isn't terribly fun to read. The last third reunites the cast, which brings unpleasant emotions people don't want to deal with bubbling up to the surface, which is more tension-filled and interesting to read than it sounds.

Kristin Hannah's specialty is emotional veracity. She's at her best when she's digging deep into her characters' emotions and letting them show the reader why they chose what they did, even when those choices are at odds with their own self-interest. Her finest medium is character development which is perfectly consistent and, while not logical or rational, makes perfect sense for a human being to behave. She accomplishes this masterfully in Night Road, giving us characters whose choices make perfect sense within the context of their own personalities, even if you want to strangle them for being the people they are.

One aspect of Jude did bother me, though. The seeds of selfishness that leave her wallowing in self-pity and dragging everyone else down with her existed before the accident, and I can't tell how strongly I was supposed to react to that. It's good that she remains consistent, but I found myself irritated at her early scenes of grief, rather than sympathetic, and like the reader was supposed to feel more sorry for her than I did. She was a smothering, overbearing force in the twins' lives long before she had cause to be so insufferable, and I didn't see her as the awesome mother Lexi later aspires to be. I thought she'd always been selfish, her every smothering move calculated to turn the twins into a vicarious life for herself. The text indicates she was supposed to be the perfect mother turned sour through tragedy, but I kept hoping for some sign, however small, that the book wasn't endorsing that brand of parenting. Instead, it seemed to be saying that she wasn't smothering enough, to which I say, phooey.

Hannah also tries a little more diversity in her casting in this book, and there's a positive depiction of a dark-skinned character. Unfortunately, that character is only there to magically fix a main character so she's a better person by the final third of the book, and the woman is serving a life sentence in prison. *sigh* Surely the coastal area of Washington state has greater diversity than that.

That said, I did enjoy this book immensely, and I found the narrative compelling and well-written. I couldn't put the last few chapters down, so to speak. And I was glad I listened to the last part in my apartment, rather than in the car. It did, indeed, make me bawl.

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