Beautiful, mournful ... We are already in thrall to a master storyteller who enmeshes us in the life of the asylum while tantalizing us with the promise of further revelations about the life that ConaLee and her mother left behind ... The intertwined stories embody a rich array of themes and ideas.
Sludgy, claustrophobic and pretentious. Each succeeding paragraph took something out of me ... When the Jorie Graham-like gauziness dissipates, when the fog lifts, what’s left are sentimentalities and near banalities ... Maybe Phillips’s early books were simply there when I needed them. But I need them still, and I didn’t need this one.
Jayne Anne Phillips is very good at writing awful things ... Jayne Anne Phillips is very good at writing awful things. Which might be why what's most powerful in her Night Watch is a rape. Another thing Phillips is very good at is capturing a sort of inner dialect, conveyed here in a language inflected with a Southern twang, modulated to reflect characters' social status and degree of education ... But it is when Phillips channels the thoughts of the others that the telling, like the story itself, becomes as compelling, even beautiful, as it is difficult to experience.
Phillips presents harrowing, visceral scenes of war and rape, but a lot of this novel relates the daily business of convalescence in the asylum, with loving attention given to the motley staff that tends to the unwell ... Whether you’ll go along with the contrivances, some very far-fetched, depends on how persuaded you are by Ms. Phillips’s generous vision of wholeness. Goodness is a real thing in this novel—a verifiable force—and the question posed is whether we still have the sensitivity to discern it.