This novel provides an examination of contemporary America through the prism of a family tragedy: when a powerful parent dies, each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways, and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all.
... timely, monumental ... masterful novel, yet another piercing examination of American culture by the writer this reviewer considers our country's greatest living novelist ... Whitey and Jessalyn's five adult children are brilliantly drawn characters, whose passions, politics, struggles and secrets fit well into the factions we Americans fall into ... Over hundreds of pages, their relationships play out in raw, authentic detail. Their encounters are revelatory, not just in the realm of family trickiness, but in the larger context of American culture, which these days is most painfully represented by people who lack the ability to step back and consider the other and his or her circumstances ... brilliant. How blessed we are to have [Oats] as a novelist in our chaotic, confusing times ... Three inches thick or no, Night deserves the top spot on your quarantine nightstand. Here's a fervent salute to Oates, our finest American novelist, for this one.
An immersive, discursive chronicle of a family’s reconfiguration following the death of its patriarch...and an otherworldly chord resonates through portions of its narrative ... Despite its bulk, this is a novel that doesn’t so much sprawl as scamper, at times darting purposefully off in the direction of a deadpan comedy of manners, a courtroom drama, a philosophical enquiry into the nature of art. It also provides a timely as well as damning snapshot of race relations and police brutality in the US ... There is much to relish in Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars., from its nimble pace to exuberant set pieces. As a portrait of a family and a nation, it’s funny and tragic and sometimes bleak. Indeed, if there’s fault to be found it’s simply that the novel reads like multiple books in one, and, inevitably, some of its narrative strands get passed over too quickly. This is particularly true of the sections dealing with police racism and its fallout. Though they’re vividly rendered, in order for the novel to hang together as a whole they must ultimately be subsumed by the overarching narrative, that all-American quest for self-realisation. In this case, the self-realisation of privileged white people. Given the intense topicality conferred by George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests, it makes for an uncomfortable juxtaposition.
If Dostoyevsky was a specialist in the 'dialogical,' Oates serves up something altogether more churning and (to borrow a term of praise, from a 1977 journal entry) 'agonizingly thorough' ... the novel is so teeming with nuances and details and inklings that you barely have time to register the irony that Whitey died in the course of defending a victim of racial profiling, despite having been soft on police violence during his time as Hammond’s mayor—or that Thom’s two causes are inherently at odds, one pertaining to the fallout of a racially charged assault, the other incipiently racist. At times, there’s little to hold on to. But then, why should the reader be afforded the feeling of terra firma so persistently denied to the characters? ... Oates’s habits are designed to unsettle us and, though pleasure is never out of the equation, the novel avoids many traditional narrative strategies for ginning up tension ... And yet there is great joy to be derived from the novel’s submerged patterns, its mind-boggling fecundity, its gallimaufry of devices...its combination of intricacy and lucidity ... Although Oates rejects cohesion as a formal virtue, she has a coherent vision of what literature can deliver. She believes in the itching and the ornery and the oddly shaped, and has been trying to produce fiction that feels as irreducible to simple meanings, as resistant to paraphrase, as the subject matter it portrays.