Light’s novel and frank sense of humor are a lot of fun, as he unwinds a mystery that leaves readers in the dark until the payoff.
Fiction | Novel
5.5” x 8.5” Paperback
Rare Bird Books
Los Angeles, California, USA
Nothing invokes noir more than daytime drinking in an empty Florida tavern. This is where Douglas Light’s novel, Where Night Stops, begins, with a story the reader quickly senses the narrator is telling for his own personal discovery. The unnamed protagonist meets a woman who is the only other customer in Charm’s Tavern. She’s introspective and full of ready-made bar small talk such as reminiscing about the time she could tell him everything about gin, but confessing all she has to say about it now is that she likes it cold. In the noir, there is always an implication of truth beyond the surface. Where Night Stops lives within the space of these implications. Somehow the reader knows about some things while also being left in the dark about others. This meeting is no accident. These daytime drinkers are not losers. They have taken some hits, but they are the ones still alive. This introductory chapter ends with a moment of clarity. A confession at the end that becomes the working form for all the chapters.
We’re born with a finite number of opportunities. Attrition, bad choices, misspent goodwill, and fucked-up luck. The opportunities dwindle through a process called living. Our portfolio of prospects turns into a tattered novel of outcomes. I am twenty-two.
These pieces are brought to light, chapter by chapter: the narrator is a small town Iowa boy who was in a car crash that killed his parents and left him orphaned without a plan for the future. He ends up in Seattle where he meets a man in a homeless shelter who eventually introduces him to a criminal underworld. He works as an errand boy of sorts, making drops of unknown items for cash from unknown sources. The job has the perk of world travel, but the downside of ending up on the wrong end of a hit list.
The novel is flat out a lot of fun. The narrator’s unique point of view and frank sense of humor quickly draw the reader to finding out how this naïve young man from small town Iowa has ended up at Charm’s Tavern, the kind of place with a sign on the wall that reads: Providing hangovers and alibis since 1968. It’s told in a style that recalls the worlds of Pynchon or Hunter S. Thompson with direct everyday recollection of non-everyday events that isn’t overly self–aware of anything other than a desire to shed light slowly. To hide most of the facts along the way. The narrator is as much on a mission to get a life as he is to save it. He is as intent on confessing his wrongs as he is in finishing them.
People search everywhere for the taproot of their mistakes. They want to blame strict parents, an unsupportive school, a drunk scoutmaster, bullying siblings, or mean friends. They blame anyone but themselves. I can’t blame anyone for where I find myself now. I was taught the difference between right and wrong.
Though it’s a confession, the narrator seems pulled into this world more by accident than by choice. It starts with Ray-Ray, the Iranian man in the next cot at the Seattle homeless shelter. Ray-Ray shows him how life works in the shelter including a couple lessons to watch his possessions as Ray-Ray says the narrators full name to him (not to the reader) out loud, something he could only have found by going through his wallet. The characters of the shelter would be at home in a Denis Johnson story, as well. One chapter ends with a long paragraph listing their names, including Big Bass, Bed Bug Bill, Johnny Socks, Rathead Ron, and others. From Ray-Ray, there is a duffel bag in a locker full of cash and a cell phone with a direct line to a man named Higgles. There is the new job of delivering nebulous packages and traveling the world apparently at someone else’s expense. The perfect trap for a small-town Iowa boy with nowhere else to go.
The conceit of not getting the narrator’s name, or of the reader knowing some things the narrator doesn’t while also not knowing things that the narrator clearly does, is occasionally tiring and risks breaking the magic of the novel, but it never seems to reach the point of completely breaking trust. This is another thing the reader somehow knows: In the end, the mystery of who the narrator is, with whom he is involved, and what’s at stake, will be effectively unwoven until the payoff of being delivered to a new place is unfolded, understood then, and looked back on fondly with a sense of how beautifully messed up it all was.