My friend Oren owned a battered, gold colored, extended cab Ram Charger in high school. Outside of town on the road leading to the Jarvis farm, where Oren worked when his pickup would start, was a set of railroad tracks set on a fairly steep hill for Kansas. For fun we used to gun the Ram Charger for all it was worth, getting up as much speed up as we could before going up the incline to the railroad tracks. The speed, the built in ramps would send us airborne. This was real Dukes of Hazzard shit, no doubt about it. All four wheels came off the ground and for a moment we were a plane without wings. I can remember that moment when we were suspended up in the air, my heart in my throat, my body stiffening for the crash landing. My brain filling with endorphins, my pulse rate increasing. The crash was not without payment. We sustained contusions, crap in the back seat came to the front, and the stuff in the front ended up on the dash board, pens, cups pliers, etc. My head would rebound off the windshield and then rebound again when the pickup gave another hop after hitting the ground. The best part...the spare tire from the bed of the pickup would come flying over our heads and land in the road in front of us. After we finished laughing and checking to see if anything was bleeding, it was usually my job, being the co-pilot, to go pick the spare tire up out of the road and throw it back in the pickup bed.
It was not unusual for us to have a couple of girls in the pickup with us. Girls do like watching and even sometimes participating in the colossally stupid daring-do that boys manage to get up to for entertainment. This book by Stewart O'Nan reminded me of a night when we had two young ladies in the cab with us. I had my arm around one and was enjoying how good she smelled as we sped down the road getting ready to impress them with our best trick. It was dark, clouds covered the moon, starring out my window was like staring out into space. Mud from another excursion covered up the headlights dimming the meager glow, cutting Oren's vision down by several feet. The engine growling and sputtering, Oren was trying to coax as many horses out of that laboring engine as he could. I'm sure he was also distracted by the young lady sitting next to him. We came up to the crossing. The only way I knew we were close was because I could feel the grade pulling against the truck.
Suddenly Oren hits the brakes.
The tires bit into the gravel, and we sloughed sideways. He turned the wheel, and the truck slid around, and we came to a halt. I can hear it now. As each boxcar went by, the pressure of its passing rocked the pickup. I rolled down my mud smeared window and felt the train. It was so close I could touch it.
The girls laughed, and if there had been any light at all, when Oren and I looked at each other, we would have seen identically pale faces, I'm sure.
We never did go jump the railroad tracks again.
Well the kids in The Night Country were not as lucky as my friend Oren and I and our oblivious companions.
The book starts out with conversations between teenage ghosts. It takes awhile to figure out what is going on which doesn't bother me. I like being discombobulated for awhile. Once I do get on track and get everyone figured out, I then start to search for a plot. In the initial crash three kids die, one kid sustains traumatic head injury, and the fifth kid buckled into the backseat walks away without a scratch. The three dead kids are back as ghosts, plus the part of the traumatic head injury kid that escaped in the crash is also present though a brooding, non talking ghost. I read other reviewers that found the kids annoying, even snarky as one person put it. I would have preferred snarky. I found them utterly boring; for ghosts they really lacked imagination. They had little impact on the plot (wait there is a plot?), and actually for teenagers are relatively well behaved even with their comments.
Tim is the survivor and suffers from the standard survivor's guilt. The accident occurred on Halloween, and now that Halloween has rolled around again, he has plans to join his companions in yet another accident, plowing into the same tree that brought them all to such an abrupt halt a year ago. Brooks is the cop who also feels guilty; you will have to read to the end of the book before you understand why. He is tracking Tim, having a premonition???? that Tim is going to do something stupid.
Okay I won't tell you how it turns out. I was hoping for a big twist, in fact was expecting a big twist after reading the wonderfully written A Prayer for the Dying (see my friend Mike Sullivan's review)and Last Night at the Lobster. Please read those books by O'Nan first before delving into this one. The afore mentioned expected twist is not really a twist, but a pretty close version of what I (and you will to) expected to happen.
This book was dedicated to Ray Bradbury and the first chapter is called "Something Wicked", but he falls well short of the best of the grand master, and I can only hope the next book I pick up by O'Nan will be more in the vein of his more stellar work. I do have to thank him for drudging up a memory I had nearly forgotten. I enjoyed a moment in the warm glow of how wonderful it feels to be alive.