Reading “Late Night on Air”

Last night our neighborhood held our annual street party. The evening was bright and clear, with a breeze out of the north. The temperature was in the upper 50’s F, and some folks were wearing fall jackets and gloves. The cool was seasonable but shocking, as just Wednesday we had broken yet another all time high temperature record for the date.

We are promised substantial rain for tomorrow. Unlike communities in southern Vermont, we remain in drought and will welcome the moisture. Meanwhile we are watching hurricane Florence as it moves ever so slowly towards the coast. As of now it is far from clear whether the storm will make it this far north.

Hurricanes in September frequently bring us abundant rain, replenishing the water table for winter. They are a welcome respite from late summer’s typically dry weather. However, since Irene a few years ago their approach now brings significant anxiety to many.

I had been slowly reading Elizabeth Hay’s delicious novel, Late Night on Air. During the past week I carefully limited myself to a couple of deeply savored chapters each evening, then last night I found myself staying up late in order to finish the last third of the book. The story revolves around a CBC radio station in Yellowknife during the mid-seventies, a time of rapid and dramatic change in the Canadian arctic. As I read, I wondered just how much that community and it’s environs have changed during the past thirty years.

I often struggle to find fiction that engages me, but found myself swept up in Hay’s exquisite prose and quirky, lovable, richly human characters. The story addresses the complexities of small town life, somehow managing to weave together a coming of age story, the complexity of adult experience in an isolated community, and an examination of the quandaries of early middle age. Throughout, Hay embraces the joys, pain, and sorrows that accompany love and friendship, creating a rich and memorable community of characters.

I believe that part of the appeal of this novel for me is Hay’s ability to create complex characters without moralizing about their lives, aspirations, or behaviors. She develops and maintains a fierce compassion towards the men and women of the novel. The one male who may be truly evil is allowed some humanity, even as he becomes a foil for the struggles of the others.

I believe that the best literature uncovers the complex nature of the characters it portrays, grants the reader entry into their own needs and desires, and encourages us to live with generosity for self and others. Reading such work enables us to see our own lives as sacred journeys rather than holding ourselves hostage to totalizing ideas about who we should be and how we must behave. The very best literature encourages us to be kind and to remember that life is complex and filled with loss, even as it holds the promise of unexpected love and healing. Late Night on Air does all of this.

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