Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates
Actual Rating: 3.8
Thank you to NetGalley for a free e-copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was surprisingly really enjoyable from beginning to end, and super salient considering how many innocent dark-skinned (specifically Black people) are getting shot by police today without consequences.
Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars is a story about a powerful man’s death, and the story about his family coming to terms with it. But even more so, Whitey’s death wasn’t as simple as it seems — he was beaten by police while trying to stop it from happening to a dark-skinned young man, and after his death, one of his sons is wrapped up in a lawsuit in a justice system that is clearly broken.
Never have I read a book that made me so TORN about its characters. I’m used to having my mind made up, either rooting for a character to have the best ending or wanting the worst tragedy to hit them. That definitely wasn’t the case with this book, and to be honest I really appreciate the multitude of emotions these characters made me feel. One minute I hated them, and the next I appreciated some of the things they did.
Let’s be very clear. All of them, except for Virgil, sound like your typical white, Trumpian, rich, suburban conservative, and their offhanded comments about someone’s race or status were enough to make me hate them. Yet, we kept hearing Whitey Whitey Whitey, this parent who just had so much influence over all of their worldviews, that sometimes you kind of get how and why they’re so narrow-minded. You’re not supposed to like them, but you do grow to understand them.
Two characters that stood out to me were Thom, the macho, heir to the family company. Violent and self-righteous. If I knew him in real life, I’d run in the other direction. Toxic. And yet, his pursuit of justice was interesting and relatable and it made sense, even though morally it was for all the wrong reasons. Thom feels like an “the end justifies the means type.”
And the second one was Virgil, practically Thom’s character foil, the runt and outcast of the family. Different and isolated. The quirky artist. If I knew him in real life, I’d probably find him obnoxious. But there was still something about the way he stuck to his principles and his way of life despite the rest of his family looking down on him for it.
The others, like Sophia, Beverley, Lorene, even the widow Jessalyn — were fun to read too, but I have to admit that it really felt like Thom and Virgil were the MAIN ones in the story. And this might’ve been one downside to this book: the fact that there were so many characters made it difficult sometimes to remember who had done what. Jessalyn’s story wasn’t altogether that interesting, but it was about a woman moving on after her husband had died and not feeling guilty, and that was something I appreciated.
And Whitey. Yes, he was dead. He was pretty much only alive for a few chapters, and a soul in a few more. But Joyce Carol Oates did an amazing job with selling us his power, his role in society and in the family. He felt like a main character, and I felt his presence throughout the entire book, even if he was no longer there. He was in how all the characters acted.
The writing style is definitely not your typical novel. It’s a little stream-of-consciousness at times, fragmented, using parentheses and mini exclamations. Surprisingly, I found that this writing style worked really well for me, especially because it felt like it was allowing me to get inside the head of every character and follow their trains of thought.
Ultimately, I’d definitely recommend this one. Even if it did get me a long time to get through — it is 800 pages — it was worth it, and in such a racially charged political climate, it honestly felt like the perfect read.