Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates is a captivating portrait of a family in modern day America. When a horrific tragedy kicks off the almost eight hundred page story, I was immediately drawn in and I never looked back. Whitey, a well known man in his 60s observes a fight on the side of the highway. He pulls over to help when he realizes there are police officers beating up a black man. His intention is to stop the violence, yet upon his approach, the young, naive officers redirect their anger from their victim to Whitey, and zap him with a taser gun. When he drops to the ground and passes out, the violent officers call for medical attention and submit a false report stating Whitey was in a car accident where he sustained injuries. After several days, tragically, Whitey dies in the hospital. This is where Joyce Carol Oates’s expertise in modern American society and her gift for character development shine.
Police brutality, racism, and the death of a patriarch set a powerful backdrop for Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. We follow each member of Whitey’s family to see how they deal with his absence, getting to know and understand their sibling relationships and personal struggles. Thom is the oldest brother and he is bossy and sarcastic. Virgil comes to terms with his sexuality in the absence of his judgmental father. Lorena recognizes her own bitterness and reckons with her lack of relationships. Beverly decides it is time to stand up for herself when it comes to her cheating husband. Sophia gives second thoughts to her career choice and her relationship with an older, married man. And Jessica, Whitey’s widow, chooses to enter into a very different relationship with an unexpected partner where she walks the line between feeling love and happiness, and the desire to be dead along with her deceased husband.
Whitey’s expectations for his wife and children have less power now that he is gone and there is desperation, relief, re-evaluation of life choices, freedom to express and live their best lives, vengeance, frustration, anger and support. Each family member has his or her own story and in the aftermath of Whitey’s death, their life paths change; they fall off track when it comes to their careers, marriages and relationships, and good or bad, their true selves emerge. We get to know them and understand their past and present actions, emotions and motives along with the family dynamics. Joyce Carol Oates and her beautiful use of language make this story of corruption and justice a compelling portrait of a family in mourning.
There is so much to examine in this novel and and I truly got lost in it. A great book I highly recommend!
A Netflix Recommendation
I was watching Bloodline on Netflix at the same time I was reading Oates’s novel and there are some minor similarities on the surface… a mother and her adult children grappling with death, loss and personal issues as well as police corruption. Enjoy Joyce Carol Oates’s book, Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. as well as Bloodline on Netflix and get your fix of family trauma in the current day environment this summer!
A Little Twitter Controversy
Joyce Carol Oates recently posted a distasteful photo of her foot on Twitter and it caused a bit of a stir! Vanity Fair wrote about it here.
About the Author
Born on June 16, 1938, in Lockport, New York, Joyce Carol Oates developed a love for writing as a child and went on to become an acclaimed, bestselling scribe known for her novels, stories, poetry and essays, winning the National Book Award for 1969’s them. Her other notable works include A Garden of Earthly Delights, We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, The Gravedigger’s Daughter and The Accursed.
Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms … Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly.