The book opens with a horrific stabbing in the woods at night, a murder that works more to establish a dark, tragic tone than to set up any real mystery that needs to be solved ... By turns cynical and plain-spoken, Staples is a guide with inside knowledge about the lives he depicts. Despite his occasionally clunky and disjointed prose, he makes a clear-eyed and distinctive debut.
Staples renders Marion in the first-person, giving the reader a vibrant intimacy to an openly gay man in a town where the majority of nearby online dating profiles are blank. The concise, thoughtful style gives characters, even when hardly physically described, emotional propulsion. Staples’ empathy for the entire town makes the characters clear and urgent. The author’s empathy even extends to former prom king Shannon Harstad, Marion’s childhood bully who becomes his on-off closeted lover ... It’s fair to say that Shannon doesn’t know himself, a sad and pressurized state that Staples pushes into relief by skillfully writing Shannon’s sections in the second person. There’s a beauty to the unadorned prose ... Staples avoids melodrama in detailing the drug vulnerability, emotional strains, and the financial frustration that befalls the denizens of Geshig. This troubled reality does come with a good share of humor ... This Town Sleeps is suffused with such humanity and the voices are so enchanting that a longer novel, to allow for a plurality of perspectives, might have been warranted. But this is a comment about expansion. The narrative is so well controlled that, however brief, This Town Sleeps remains a consistent pleasure.
... haunting ... The perspective slides from Marion’s first person to Shannon’s second to a third that encompasses individual memories and community knowledge. There are moments where this is useful ... But the loss of Marion’s charm and immediacy mean that these shifts in subjectivity derail the narrative, leaving the reader to re-orient, chapter by chapter. The accompanying shifts in time nearly create a structural haunting ... Staples’ novel feels a little unpolished. But this is Staples’ first book, and there’s a deep pleasure in watching him find his voice in it ... How much does the audience know, or need to know? Who is represented? How fairly? Here, Staples shines. He weaves the quiet threads of spiritual life with the day-to-day activities of a modern community. There isn’t a single way to be Indian here ... In spite of the novel’s weaknesses, This Town Sleeps is genuinely enjoyable.