July 29, 2012 by Charles Dickey
Here’s my review of Chris Bohjalian’s novel The Night Strangers, cross-posted from Goodreads:
Bohjalian’s characters largely fall out as two-dimensional. The pilot, arguably the main character, appears unconvincing and unrealistic. At the outset, he seems to be a thoroughly practical man and a competent pilot. A terrible plane crash results in PTSD (and something more sinister…), but the transition from father/husband/pilot to creepy, psychotic threat is too jarring to be believable. One redeeming point is Bohjalian’s second-person narration, which drops the reader into the pilot. Although the pilot remains an unsympathetic and unconvincing character in the larger narrative, these second-person bits are done quite well in the regard that the sense of dislocation, loss, and trauma is communicated in a visceral way to the reader. Emily, the pilot’s wife, is also fairly unbelievable and sketchily presented. On the one hand, we are told that she is a successful lawyer who doubles as a “single mom” to her twin daughters, as her husband the pilot is largely absent; however, Emily’s naive trust in her new “friends” in Bethel runs counter to this characterization, and she seems more like a flake than any form of competent. The last thing I will say about characters is that the most compelling ones, Garnet and Reseda, resolve in unsatisfying ways. These two characters are the most human and dynamic (if I may stretch and use that word when describing the characters in this book) in The Night Strangers, but in the climax and epilogue they are both thrown away.
And that brings us to the epilogue, the giant turd at the end of the book. A generous review would perhaps state that Bohjalian is presenting a cynical view of society and his protagonists. This review will simply say that the epilogue is a piece of shit that unnecessarily damns the entire book. With little effort, Bohjalian could have written a more realistic, and more human, ending. But we are presented with something that feels like an evil cartoon laugh fused to a black-and-white horror flick. Fizzle, plop, fail.
Two stars for a good beginning, pulling off second-person narration, and a couple of almost strong characters. Missing all the other stars because of everything detailed above.