Luanne Rice is reading and signing at R.J. Julia Booksellers tonight. Expect a lively discussion, since her new book Little Night takes a sharp turn from her accustomed nature scenes and seaside couplings.
There’s plenty of emotional turmoil in Luanne Rice novels, but most of it takes place in bucolic settings (many of which are in Connecticut). A sense of romance is a key distinction of her work, but Little Night takes a turn for the physical, graphic, and violent. And it wastes no time getting there.
In the book’s first paragraph we learn, through the first-person diary-like memories of heroine Clare Burke, that she has been injured and arrested, and that the other person in the altercation is “a lot worse off.” Clare has assaulted her brother-in-law because he’s been abusing her sister.
How gritty does it get? Grit is the name of one of the book’s characters. And that initial assault is far from the last nasty incident in the book:
Clare knelt beside Grit, hugging her for warmth, shocked at the blood streaming from her big toe, sliced to the bone. Paul ran to the Jeep, got his first aid kit. He cleaned the open wound with bottled water, then hydrogen peroxide. Grit howled.
That the characters think to treat wounds, and howl, gives Little Night a believability that stops it from being sensationalistic.
This is not the Luanne Rice folks are accustomed to from her dozens of bestsellers. But I expect that most of those readers have also dipped into the works of Jodi Picoult or Richard North Patterson, writers who build drama around extraordinary tests of morality and social conscience. Luanne Rice, whose main political activist theme up until now has been environmental awareness, holds her own when tackling spousal abuse and vengeful violence. She also doesn’t let the issues detract from telling a good story.
Little Night really keeps you guessing. It veers from the horrific to the poetic, from the most harrowing personal relationships to blissful, gushing, vulnerable romance. It's more internal that a lot of Luanne Rice novels—not just the simmering emotions but in actually besides inside buildings rather than strolling along beaches.
I enjoyed this book fine, with the understanding that it really is not meant for me, and that I consciously needed to excuse some of its extremes. Little Night not exactly anti-men, but it does treat many of its male characters as volatile, with seething undercurrents and sudden breaking point. The book is certainly slanted to its intended female audience and is empathetic to that viewpoint rather than balanced. Which is great, even if it makes male readers like me uncomfortable. There’s enough senseless violence in popular literature; somebody sensible needs to provide an alternative.
Luanne Rice, who has a home in Old Lyme and who briefly attended Connecticut College before becoming a novelist, will appear 7 p.m. June 8 at R.J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Rd., Madison CT. (203) 245-3959, firstname.lastname@example.org. Admission is $5, which may be used towards the purchase of Little Night ($26.95).