From the outside, the Chengs seem like poster children for the enduring promise of the American Dream. But then little Annabel begins to sleepwalk at night, putting in motion a string of misunderstandings that strips away their faðcade of suburban normalcy, threatening to set the community against them and turn their dream into tragedy.
This novel reminds us what it’s like navigating a foreign country: Connections feel frayed, self-doubt proliferates, the immigrant is never sure what is normal and what isn’t ... There’s much to admire in this debut novel. Simon Han’s voice embodies the monotony of feeling out of place, of realizing that life continues to roll forward, even if all you experience is inertia. To survive this kind of discord, the Chengs must first overcome their sense of alienation — from one another and from white America — and allow room for forgiveness.
While the book is driven more by characterization than by plot, Han delivers the few pivotal moments with such skill that they are jaw-droppers ... Han displays incredible range as a novelist, oscillating between honest, almost tangibly real scenes, opaque dreams and refractive memories. He portrays Annabel’s and Jack’s points of view with remarkable integrity, while Liang and Patty are both heartbreaking and heartwarming, doing their absolute best for their children while grappling with their pasts ... Han’s prose is vivid yet restrained, and his characters are multidimensional and alive. Emotionally resonant and packed with nuance, this is an exemplary debut novel.
When Liang is wrongly accused of a crime by his neighbors, a misunderstanding that he doesn't have the English proficiency to refute, it's the closest thing to something happening in the book ... Like many books about Chinese American immigrants, the most compelling moments come from the characters' pasts. Particularly poignant is the story of Liang's mother, who dies in an accidental fall shortly after giving birth to her son ... Though Han's intent was clearly to keep this novel quiet, I did wish that so much of the drama wasn't left to the imagination. The story glosses over Liang's interactions with law enforcement after he's accused, as well as Patty and Liang's painful decision to separate. After the pivotal accusation, I expected the plot to come to a boil, but instead it returned to a simmer – and stayed there ... Nights When Nothing Happened is a brief novel best read slowly, so one can savor the resonance and originality Han wrings from the quotidian. Readers should expect an experience more like watching a Wong Kar-wai film than a Kathryn Bigelow one; Han's gift at zeroing in on matters of the conflicted heart is its own reward.