FICTION

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars

Ecco: HarperCollins. Jun. 2020. 800p. ISBN 9780062797582. $35. F
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In a small city in upstate New York, John Earle “Whitey” McClaren, 67-year-old former mayor and pillar of the community, attempts to intervene in an unprovoked police assault on an unarmed man of color. For his Good Samaritan efforts, he is tasered multiple times and suffers a stroke. Oates has set her latest novel in 2010, before the widespread use of body cams and before police brutality had fully entered into the national conversation. That Whitey himself becomes a victim seems like a flaw in the premise; as a white man, the same confidence and privilege that allow him to unthinkingly step into the conflict without fearing for his safety would likely have protected him from assault by the racist cops. That aside, Whitey’s dispatch in the first chapter lets him become a cipher for his wife and five adult children, from whose perspective the rest of the nearly 800-page novel is told. Whitey was a towering, patriarchal figure, and his family members all defined themselves in relation to him. In his absence, they become unmoored and even unhinged.
VERDICT A poetic meditation on psychological trauma and a complex and nuanced portrait of a grieving family.

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