No author other than Luanne Rice writes about family dysfunction with more feeling and in such a poetic yet believable manner.
In Little Night, her 30th novel, Rice introduces us to sisters Clare and Anne, torn apart by Anne’s abusive husband. Eighteen years in the past, Clare spent two years in prison for assaulting Anne’s husband while attempting to save her sister’s life. Her conviction was mainly based on Anne’s claim that her husband was innocent of abuse, lies caused by the total control he has established over her. As a result, the sisters have had no contact in the ensuing years.
The sentence devastated Clare’s life and her relationships, but she has gradually put it back together in a more or less satisfactory manner. When Anne’s daughter Grit shows up, though, everything is shaken up again. As Grit and Anne bond, dark secrets continually emerge and Grit and Clare’s desire to complete the family circle again becomes stronger and stronger.
Despite the painful subject matter, Little Night is not so much about despair as about hope, redemption, and the power of love and of nature to heal even serious wounds. Rice creates characters a reader can really identify with and care about.
Along the way, many readers will get an entirely different view of New York. Clare is a nature blogger and birder, while her boyfriend is a park ranger. The descriptions of Central Park, a bog, and the waterfront present a New York not as far removed from the natural world as the one most people see on television and in movies and books. I found the way the search for a allegedly extinct owl was woven into the story of the search for family reunion between the sisters and Grit and the healing of the rift that underlies the enduring love between Paul and Clare very clever.
Overall, Little Night is a unique and riveting story, although the ending is a bit abrupt. I hope it is just the beginning of the saga of the Burke family, because Rice certainly leaves you wanting to encounter these characters again.