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Late One Night: A Novel Hardcover – May 3, 2016
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In this one-main-street Plains town, folks have known each other for generations. When Ronnie and Della got into a "snort and holler" right in the sundries store, neighbors heard, and when Ronnie left Della and their seven kids for Brandi, they gossiped. So everybody wondered: Was Ronnie guilty of setting the fire that trapped Della and their three youngest children that blustery January night? Martin parcels out hints to the mystery, but life in Goldengate goes on, and his characters develop as they react. Crotchety neighbor Shooter Rowe thinks ill of Ronnie, but Captain, his disabled son, adores him. Godparents Missy and Pat seek custody of the surviving children, but Missy frets that she's misjudged Ronnie. Brandi, pregnant with Ronnie's baby, desperately believes he's innocent. Even Ronnie, despite evidence implicating him, evokes sympathy.
The blacktop road leading to the trailer in a barren cornfield, wisps of snow snaking across the road, the blue-gray winter skies evoke the spare Goldengate life and the town's sorrow. But redemption comes with forgiveness and generosity, and "a chance to do something good, to let people know they weren't alone." In the end, Martin's story inspires hope. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A trailer fire on a cold Illinois night might be arson; Lee Martin's taut novel reveals the townspeoples' response and, eventually, the answer. --Shelf Awareness
". . .riveting. . .a must read." ~ Christopher Purdy, WOSU All Sides Weekend Books.
"In Late One Night, Lee Martin crafts a graceful and nuanced story of heartbreak, guilt, and reckoning driven by a small town's quest for justice after an arson fire claims a man's estranged wife and three children. Martin's brilliant characterization and command of language captivate the reader as the story unfolds, revealing lives worn thin by imperfect, desperate acts of love and survival." ~ The Kenyon Review
"In his latest novel, Late One Night, Lee Martin explores how a town unravels into gossip and accusations after a man's wife and three of his seven children die in a fire that destroys their mobile home. . . .if you're looking for a Father's Day gift for someone who loves to read, whether a loving father or a friend who always wishes they had a good one, Martin's work offers something special." ~ Ploughshares
From the Author
The genesis of the novel was, as it often is with me, a news story--this one about a trailer fire in which a mother and several of her children died. The husband happened to be living outside the home at the time,and though the fire wasn't suspicious--he therefore wasn't suspected of any wrong doing--I started playing the "what-if" game. What if the fire were suspicious, and what if someone opened the door to gossip and rumor to the point that the husband was suspected of setting it. As I kept mulling this allover, I kept coming back to questions of innocence and guilt and how they apply to people in a variety of ways, and I kept thinking about the surviving children of that fire and the community members around them, and their father's fight to save them, and also his reputation. I've always been interested in the way a small thing--something said or done, or something not said or not done--can start a causal chain of events that ends up irrevocably changing lives. In the small town of Goldengate, and out in the country,people's lives become magnified, and when something large happens, as it does in the novel, people start to talk about other people. Missy Wade, the neighbor of Della and Ronnie Black and their children, has a chance to put a stop to all the gossip, but she doesn't. By not acting, by not speaking, she allows it tos pread. Sometimes characters aren't aware of what motivates them, and they surprise themselves with what they're capable of doing or not doing to try toget what they want. Missy is one of those characters--a good person, made more interesting by her own self-centered concerns. She has a moment in the novel when everything could swing in quite a different way than it does, but she lets that moment pass, and, as a result, Ronnie Black finds himself suspected of arson. In the novel, characters stray from goodness, but to me that doesn't mean they're bad people. They've just lost their way for a while. They can always find their way back to the lives they're meant to have. This is what happens in Late One Night when characters start to know what it is to live someone else's life. To me, the art of writing fiction is ultimately an act of empathy. It's the art of living as well, but we so often fall short when it comes to considering the wounds and wars of other people's lives.
(Thank you to John Dufresne for the interview questions that led to this response, and to The Brooklyn Rail for running the interview).
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Top Customer Reviews
A tragic fire sets characters—and the town they live in—into motion. Lives are twisted, first by tragedy and then by gossip and petty grudges. The characters are real people with real voices in a real place, which is a good-hearted mid-western town with a mean streak as wide as the main drag.
I’m about to re-read it.
Martin's incorporation of key details makes his novel perfect. His characters are multifaceted with raw emotions. He uses some repetition to drive his main points home.
He mentions Black Suede giving the reader a real sense of the time and a particular scent to relate to with one of his characters. All the senses are engaged throughout this novel. Martin also reflects on a quilt made by the Captain's mother for him before she passed away and the whole scene is very fulfilling with apparent emotion inside Lois as she views this boy in his room with the quilt. Lois knows he is suffering and he's finding comfort in this handmade item.
This is my favorite part in the novel:
"He liked to imagine that the fireworks were the wings of angels, painting the sky red and blue and silver and gold as they streaked down to Earth to see to this or that. His mother had something she liked to say to him when she told him goodnight. It came from a poem she learned in school when she was a girl:
Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels (277)."
At the end, mentioning Anne Frank and quoting her is a wonderful touch!
"I still believe people are really good at heart(309)."--this is what I believe the theme is inside this novel. Finding the positive and good in people are often reflected on as the story comes to the end.
Martin drives home the point of leaving the past behind and moving on in this book. He kept me turning the pages with the building suspense and his intriguing clues to what really happened.
This is definitely, a hard novel to put down without finishing.
LATE ONE NIGHT is a wonderful study of a small town. Martin’s characters and dialogue bring Goldengate, Illinois to life, and every reader will find someone they know in its pages. I loved the way each person was made more real in some small way to help me further immerse myself in the story, and by the end of the book I felt as much a member of the town as anyone I had read about. Shifting points of view ensured that I always had any needed backstory, and it was done in a way that didn’t leave me scrambling to remember whose brain I was sharing.
Lee Martin has a special gift when it comes to writing literary fiction that combines suspense and the darker side of people with the comforting rhythm you can find in a small town. LATE ONE NIGHT is a terrific example of that as Martin captures the wistfulness and yearning for what could have been, the hopes that come with a fresh start, and the suffering caused by a tragedy. It's one of those rare books that I'll read again, and I definitely recommend to others.
The pleasure in reading this book is not just to be found in who did it (although this question will certainly have you turning pages) but in what we learn about the characters and indeed ourselves as we follow their movements across the page. Martin takes us to places we might not be brave enough to visit on our own. Asks that we face the demons, touch the sore spots. Allow ourselves to feel how at any moment, a life can divide into before and after. A mother and children lay down to sleep in a trailer. A man begins his life anew. And then.
It is in this space between before and after that Lee gives us the opportunity to come face to face with the shifting nature of truth, the many dimensions of human character. To walk the line between goodness and brutality that this author renders so beautifully in each of his memoirs and short stories and novels. And now again in his latest, Late One Night.