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Grapey Book Club: The Night Always Comes

The Night Always Comes is an urban odyssey set in contemporary Portland, Oregon and follows Lynette, a woman languishing under the pressure of neoliberal America. Sharing a run-down, overpriced house with her mother and disabled brother, she juggles work, study and caring duties while doing her best to save a deposit in the hope of buying said overpriced house. That is, until her well-laid plans go awry, and Lynette must scramble to find money wherever she can. This novel is fast-paced, set over two days and nights. I myself read it over a single weekend, furiously turning the page to find out what would happen next.

There are so many things to celebrate about The Night Always Comes. Vlautin’s prose is unadorned and direct, though it conveys such meaning in its simplicity. The dialogue is a standout. Each character speaks with striking authenticity that I could almost hear them speaking it in my head. Lynette’s mother Doreen is the best example of this, with her meandering monologues about love, motherhood and work on the lower boundary of the American middle class.

The plot is instantly recognisable as an appropriation of the quest trope – lonely heroine finds a path to success through a series of trials and tasks. This trope is complimentary, as the reader easily understands Lynette’s character and place within the story, even as the complexities of her motivations become apparent throughout the novel. Her quest is one of atonement to her mother and brother, to make up for how she feels she failed them. Lynette works two jobs, in a bakery and a bar. She has various side hustles and nefarious dealings that helped her save a hefty sum very quickly.

While her perseverance in pulling herself up by her bootstraps is admirable, Lynette’s experience is not glamorised. The Night Always Comes shines here, in portraying the backbreaking pursuit of basic necessities like housing and financial security as precarious and ceaseless. Lynette’s frantic hustle is not something the reader feels inclined to emulate. She and her mother represent a startling foil encapsulating the inner conflict individuals face in dealing with inflated property markets and economic inequality. Lynette is driven to work herself to the point of exhaustion to save a deposit to buy their long-term rental property. She gets into dangerous situations and her body is very literally in the firing line at times just so she can get her hands on a few hundred dollars, or sell something she stumbled across that may have some value.

On the other hand, her mother Doreen is tired. She has spent thirty years working hospitality and retail jobs and has spent much of that time barely being able to get by. She goes to charity for clothes and spends much of the novel huddled under an electric blanket on the old sofa. Doreen laments the injustice of it all. She has worked herself to the bone and there has been no reward other than to stay afloat. She and Lynette clash because Doreen cannot see a path out of the economic bind in which she finds herself. Why should she continue working? Why should she be grateful to the landlord that lets them live in a run-down house, taking advantage of the fact that they won’t make a fuss for fear of the rent going up?

This novel is a powerful exploration of greed, work and family in the shadow of the American dream. It resonates with current economic conditions in Australia: the housing crisis, growing inequality and a shrinking middle class. It is perfect for a slow weekend or getting out of a reading slump and a side of social commentary. The Night Always Comes is definitely worth adding to the TBR pile.


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