Synopses & Reviews
The scene of Alice McDermott's brilliantly observed and poignant second novel is suburban Long Island in the sixties. Rick and Sheryl are high school sweethearts abruptly separated by Sheryl's mother when she discovers her daughter is pregnant. Their story is narrated by a neighbor of Sheryls who, as a child, watched the progress of Rick and Sheryls romance with admiring fascination. As she describes her indelible memories of that night, when Rock came to rescue Sheryl from the prison of her house, she creates a wry, bittersweet elegy for young love, that most intense and unalloyed of human relationships.
"That Night gloriously rejects the notion that this betrayed and bankrupt world can be rendered only in the spare, impersonal prose that has become the standard of so much contemporary fiction, and the result is a slim novel of almost 19th-century richness, a novel that celebrates the life of its suburban world at the same moment that it mourns that world's failures and disappointments." David Leavitt, The New York Times Book Review
"Out of suburban violence and a sense of loss by separation, McDermott has wrought a miracle, one that is enhanced even more in its telling. Her feat is remarkable." Michael J. Bandler, Chicago Tribune
"By mixing up concrete details that anchor her story in a specific time and place with a more lyrical sense of memory and desire, Ms. McDermott has succeeded in writing a novel that possesses the ability to make us remember our own youth and all that has vanished since." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"That Night is voiced with musical economy... McDermott has balanced her book finely between the truth and the sadness of reality." Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times
A beautiful coming-of-age novel that explores miracles, innocence, and the disillusionments of first love from the perspective of one remarkable young girl.
On a warm suburban night, the sound of lawn sprinklers is drowned out by the rumble of hot rods. Suddenly a car careens onto a familys neat front yard, teenage boys spill out brandishing chains and leather, and a young man cries out for the girl he loves. Tonight fathers will pick up snow shovels and rakes to defend their turf, and children will witness a battle fueled by fierce, true love. This is the night they will talk about and remember as the moment everything changed forever.
Reading Group Guide
1. What was the effect of the narrators voice on your reading of these events? How might the novel have unfolded if it had been told from Ricks point of view?
2. In what way is Rick and Sheryls story timeless? What other love stories, ancient or contemporary, did their dilemma bring to mind? How did your parents react to your first dates?
3. How did Rick and Sheryl cope with their fractured families? How much did their home lives influence their attraction to one another?
4. Is Ricks reaction to the loss of Sheryl typical of young men but not young women? How might Sheryl have reacted if Rick had been the one who was sent away?
5. How does That Night compare to your impressions or memories of 1960s suburbia? What shifts in American culture are captured in this novel?
6. In what ways could Ricks anguish serve as a metaphor for the nation at large during that time period?
7. What might have become of Sheryl and Ricks relationship if she had not become pregnant? Would it have lasted into marriage, as she predicted? If not, who would have been the one to call for a break-up?
8. What do Sheryls nonchalant words regarding death indicate about her true frame of mind? How is her attitude toward death intertwined with her approach to sex? What does the narrator mean on page 75 when she says that Rick “would not have been able to resist the heady combination of love and sex and death, even if he could never fully understand it”?
9. How are the economic lines drawn in the community featured in That Night? Which families have more social power? Who looks down on whom?
10. What ironies exist in the fact that the narrators mother is desperate to have a child? How does the narrators experience of family life compare to that of the other kids in the neighborhood?
11. How does Sheryl respond to Pam? Which one of them has greater control? Would you have been able to trust Pam?
12. What was the lasting aftermath of that night? As the narrators family home is being sold, how does Rick seem to be affected by the memory of Sheryl? How did that night compare to the later years the characters would go on to experience?
13. How did you react to the novels closing scene and its image of Sheryls newborn son? Did your perception of her change from the beginning of the book to that moment?
14. What themes regarding family are woven through many of Alice McDermotts novels? What makes the families in That Night distinct from those in her other works?