Reviewed by E. B. Heath
This novel is deceptively simple. It begins gradually, without drama or intrigue. You think about making a cup of coffee, unaware that momentum is piling up. Before you know it, you’re sitting on a roller coaster of compassion, caring, really caring, about Lynette. You follow her actions for two days and two nights; she does bad things, people get hurt, but your judgment just blows away. You feel the lived experience of inequity.
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin is a masterly piece of fiction that maps out the contours of poor and working class people battling poverty in America. It is clear that Vlautin has lived this reality, surely that is the only way he could bring his characters so intimately alive in the reader’s mind. Detailed descriptions are used to depict every scene, every action, always showing, never telling the reader what is going on. It feels a tad over-done at first, then, almost unconsciously, you slip into the scene as a shadowy witness.
Lynette is living with her mother and Kenny, her older brother by two years, who is intellectually disabled. A father who refuses any financial aid deserted the family many years ago. She works at three jobs, and has done things she is not proud of, in order to scrabble enough money together as a deposit to buy the house they are renting. Her mother agrees to take on a loan for the mortgage but, in the last week before approval, she reneges and buys herself a new car instead. Lynette is desperate. The neighbourhood is being gentrified, and house prices are soaring. A generous offer from the landlord to buy at a reduced price is their only chance of any security, not being forced to pay an exorbitant rent in a far-flung suburb. This sets the scene for some inadvisable action taken by Lynette as she attempts to reclaim money owed to her by scumbag characters. Lynette is caught in tough territory where the border between legal activity and criminality is fuzzy at best.
Lynette’s sad past is filled in for the reader mainly through dialogue with other characters, who either witness or take part in the action. It is not an unusual story but heart rendering nevertheless. Suffice to say, she has been severely damaged by events that have left her with dark and dangerous moods. Vlautin uses the novel’s only flashback to narrate her relationship with the love of her life, Jack. It is a relationship that does not survive those threatening moods.
This novel is a commentary on American capitalism; greed trickles down from rich to poor, but ultimately the poor are force to pay.
I’ve almost lost hope. … The thing is, Lynette, I’m getting mean. … All these rich sons of bitches, they just talk bullshit and take whatever they want. They take and take and then, when they get themselves in a pickle, we bail them out.
The Night Always Comes is a work of fiction that feels like a documentary.
By Willy Vlautin