...in some ways, the sequel is better than the original ... Nights benefits from more of a built-in narrative this time, as Rushin moves from Bloomington to Marquette University in Milwaukee and then, about as fast you can say 'you’re hired,' to a job at Sports Illustrated in New York. There are still a few digressions, such as an obsession with the Minneapolis Star and Tribune’s cable TV listings, but fewer than in Sting-Ray ... Rushin affects a sort of Midwestern 'Gosh, how did this happen to me?' about much of this. But give him credit for more pluck than that ... As SI readers know, Rushin’s strength is his descriptive and playful prose ... But we move from one moment to the next, one anecdote to another, so briskly that besides Rushin himself, we don’t get to know the people in the stories that well, as we did his family in Sting-Ray. When Saunders enters Rushin’s life, you get a sense of Saunders’ open and embracing nature, but we’re never privy to a conversation that gives us real insight into him, or into their friendship.
Nobody does nostalgia like Rushin. He doesn’t traffic in rose-tinted memories of golden afternoons but, instead, basks in the harsh lights of the White Castle parking lot and the unusual nighttime clientele those lights reveal. Following up on his childhood memoir ... Rushin returns in top form to share his journey from age 13 to 22 in the 1980's ... His memories are crammed with cultural touchstones, from the latest in wood-paneled technology, including cassette tapes from competitors that irk Rushin’s 3M executive father, to the nuclear wasteland depicted in The Day After to the beer jingles clamoring for attention on the air. A fun and nuanced coming-of-age story, Nights in White Castle offers a rollicking ride down memory lane.
[Rushin] is particularly attuned to the consumer landscape that shapes our material lives — and did so particularly for middle-class kids in the ’70s and ’80s, when mass-produced products thrived and screens hadn’t yet proliferated ... The fact that Nights in White Castle begins in high school, then travels through college and lands in Times Square gives it more of a disjointed feel than the warmly cohesive Sting-Ray Afternoons, and all in all it’s not quite as funny. Most of its laughs come early on ... an affectionate but not misty-eyed look back at one man’s emergence from the remarkably unremarkable cradle of Middle America.