Do not be afraid to leave the story. You may get scared sometimes because you fail to understand that what is scared is not you. It’s the story. The story looks for a way to travel. The story is afraid you will let go.
Day For Night – Frederick Reiken
Take the middle section of a puzzle apart from the whole. Imagine you’ve selected ten pieces. Break them from each other so that they’re no longer connected. Then put them back together again. It seems easy enough. Curves in the side of each piece match only with their corresponding partners. Details of the picture start to form. Now turn each of those pieces into a person, and put them in a book. That is Day For Night by Frederick Reiken. Each chapter is a piece of a much larger puzzle, and only when you’ve finished the book, connected each piece to its partner, can you truly see the beauty of the whole, intricately designed work.
This is Reiken’s third novel and I will confess that I’ve had his second novel, The Lost Legends of New Jersey, on my unread bookshelf for five years now. I’ve had it ever since he gave it to me in a fiction seminar course in 2005. Time flies and I never read it and then I saw his name with a new book and I thought to myself, “I should review it.” But when I received Day For Night from Hachette I became afraid. Afraid to read it in case I wouldn’t like it. Afraid I would have to tell a former professor that I didn’t like his work. How silly I was.
I admired the cover first, and read the book description which summarized by saying:
Gliding effortlessly across time and space, in settings that range from Florida to New Jersey to the Caribbean and the Dead Sea, Day For Night builds toward moments of revelation, when refugees from their own lives, or from history’s cruelties, come together in unpredictable and extraordinary ways.
Then I began the first chapter and thought, “I hope the rest of the book isn’t about this lady.” That might be an awful thing to think, but bear with me. The first chapter is about a woman who we later learn is named Beverly. She’s in Florida with her boyfriend (who has cancer) and his son. Through random circumstance she forms a friendship with a young boat driver who has taken them on an excursion to see manatees. I thought the book was going to turn into Beverly having an affair with the boat driver, which would have disappointed me which, in my defense, is why I thought what I did. But again, silliness.
The second chapter picks up from the boat driver’s experience some time later. He’s on an airplane with Dee, the girl who sings lead in their band. She has a story as well. They all do. Every new chapter picks up a connection with the previous chapter’s characters and leads off in a new voice and a seemingly new tangent. Soon you are following Dee’s story, her traumatic childhood and comatose brother, and where her brother was before he was in a coma, and who helps him, and where they came from, and more. So much more. But the best part is that the tangents all start to come together. And it’s beautiful, and enigmatic, and ebullient, and tragic, and vastly confusing in the best ways possible.
This book has people running from persecution to escape the holocaust, and people who were tortured by Nazis. It has people dying of cancer, and people finding each other after months of separation. It has old loves, and secret loves, and reunited loves. It is heartbreaking and hopeful, intriguing and suspenseful. It’s simply fabulous. And you should read it.
I would say this book really kicked in for me around the third chapter, which is from Dee’s point of view. There’s something I really like about Dee, she is sensual and strong and independent, but also vastly traumatized and empty inside. Her character really spoke to me. And I think her story, along with her brother’s, was the glue holding the puzzle together. Most of the other characters somehow spun from their narrative. This is not to say that the other characters aren’t as important, because they are. Separate from Dee and her brother, they form beautiful stories in and of themselves.
This book doesn’t get five stars because it’s well-written (which it is), or because the author is an old professor of mine. It gets five stars because I could barely put it down, but also wanted to read it slowly so I could enjoy it. It gets five stars because it’s incredible. It gets five stars because I will absolutely, one-hundred percent, read it again.