Author, Book review, Canada, David Adams Richards, Fiction, literary fiction, McClelland & Stewart, Publisher, Reading Projects, Setting, TBR 21

‘Nights Below Station Street’ by David Adams Richards

Fiction – paperback; McClelland & Stewart; 225 pages; 2009.

Every now and then I stumble upon a book that offers up a complete cast of characters, immerses me in their lives and makes me feel as if I know them all personally, their flaws and foibles, and then, when I come to the end, I’m left bereft at having to say goodbye. This is how I felt when I read David Adams Richards’ 1988 novel Nights Below Station Street.

The story is set in rural Canada (the blurb tells me it’s New Brunswick) in the early 1970s.

There’s no real plot; instead, we meet a handful of locals and follow their ordinary working-class lives in a small mining and timber mill community over the course of a year or so.

In effortless, stripped-back prose, Adams Richards depicts complex familial and neighbourly relationships, the day-to-day struggles of the poor, and the very personal battles faced by those with addiction (or illness) and the subsequent outfall on their families.

A family under stress

The novel largely revolves around the Walsh family, which is headed by Joe, a labourer, who injured his back at work several years earlier and now struggles to hold down a full-time job. He’s battling alcoholism and has secretly joined AA in a bid to give up the booze. But his good intentions are constantly under threat by peer pressure and a lack of family support.

Joe’s will power and resolve is also tested by his always angry and bitter teenage stepdaughter, Adele, who rails against him, claiming Joe is a no-hoper because he isn’t the breadwinner of the household. That role falls to his wife, Rita, who provides childcare in her own home in order to bring in money.

When the desperately social Rita joins a local curling club and tries to drag Joe with her, it causes all kinds of consternation because she wants to be an active participant in the community, while Joe, an introvert with a stutter, would prefer to hide under a rock.

The story features a host of other colourful, well-drawn characters, including Ralphie, Adele’s kind-hearted boyfriend; Cindi, a student at Adele’s school who has epilepsy; Myhrra, the divorced next-door neighbour struggling to raise her 12-year-old son, Bryan, who’s acting out and becoming obnoxious; and Vye, a local man, who wants to marry her.

All are linked together because they live in the same small community where everyone knows everyone else’s business — whether they like it or not.

Lost in a blizzard

While not much seems to happen over the course of the novel, everything comes to a head at the end when a snowy blizzard puts lives at risk — but the conclusion is an uplifting one.

Nights Below Station Street won the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction at the 1988 Governor General’s Awards. It is the first volume in David Adams Richards’ Miramichi trilogy, which includes Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace (1990) and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (1993).

It’s a compelling account of small-town life and the ups and downs we all face as the world turns, and is a powerful portrait of a deep-seated human need to belong — and to be loved.

Fans of the late Kent Haruf will find much to admire there because the work is deeply reminiscent of Haruf’s eloquent heartfelt tales about a Colorado farming community.

This is my 13th book for #TBR21 in which I’m planning to read 21 books from my TBR between 1 January and 31 May 2021. I purchased it at a charity book sale earlier this month for $4 and am kind of cheating by including it in my TBR.

22 thoughts on “‘Nights Below Station Street’ by David Adams Richards”

  1. I love David Adams Richards’ books, though I haven’t read this one. I read ‘Mercy Among the Children’ when it was joint winner of the Giller in 2000. I’ve since read ‘The Bay of Love and Sorrows’, ‘Incidents in the life of Markus Paul’ and ‘Crimes Against My Brother’. They’re all fairly similar in terms of the communities they’re about and the almost parable-like tone of them. And I agree with your Kent Haruf comparison. Have you read any Larry Watson, Kim? Kevin (from Canada) was a big fan of him and he’s in a similar kid of vein to Richards and Haruf.
    Anyway, I really want to go back to the beginning and read all of David Adams Richards’ books in order as I know there are characters that reappear throughout them. Mind you, I want to do the same thing for the same reason with Louise Erdrich’s books – it’s just finding the time!

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    1. Yes, I knew you were a fan when I posted a pic of this book in a pile on my FB page! It was an entertaining read… the kind of book that washes over you… and that you don’t need to race through… which is good if you are looking for something of that nature.

      I haven’t read any Larry Watson, but I do remember Kevin being a fan. I mistakenly thought he was a fan of David Adams Richards too… but when I went hunting on his blog I saw he’d only reviewed Crimes Against my Brother. Is there a Larry Watson title you’d recommend as a good starting point?

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      1. I’ve just reread Kevin’s review and see he must have also read ‘Mercy Among the Children’ and liked it more – it’s certainly the best of the four I’ve read. As for Larry Watson, I’ve only read a couple – ‘American Boy’ was the one I started with, but ‘Montana 1948’ (the other one I’ve read) seems to be his best known book and probably the easiest one to get hold of.

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        1. I have a vague feeling I have that Montana book in my London TBR! I have about 500+ books there sitting in storage, waiting for when I can get back to UK and pack everything up to ship back to Oz. That was supposed to happen at Easter 2020 but a little thing like a global pandemic got in the way 🤷🏻‍♀️

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    1. I picked it up by chance at a charity book sale at UWA a few weekends ago. There were slim pickings at the sale but I think this was a good find! I immediately checked KevinfromCanada’s blog to see if he had reviewed this one… he hadn’t… but he had reviewed another David Adams Richards novel called Crimes Against My Brother, https://kevinfromcanada.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/crimes-against-my-brother-by-david-adams-richards/ which seems to tread similar territory.

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    1. It’s not quite as affecting / evocative as the Plainsong trilogy, but there are definite similarities in style. I liked its slow, contemplative nature. After about 6 weeks of plot-driven crime novels this was the perfect antidote!

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  2. I have done a Canadian challenge (informally or as part of the Canadian Reading Challenge) for years and this author seems perfect for me. I usually focus on mysteries / crime fiction so maybe that is why he has not come to my attention before. I am not usually fond of books with no read plot, but I think this one is worth a try anyway.

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    1. If you like plot driven novels this one probably won’t satisfy you. It’s really a series of character studies and is very slow and contemplative. If you’re in the mood for something like that you might prefer Kent Haruf’s Plainsong trilogy.

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      1. Thanks for that suggestion. I hate to admit that I am not familiar with Haruf, especially reading a bit about him this morning. I should be able to find one of his books to try.

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    1. I think I just read it at the right time. I was looking for something gentle but immersive and this was perfect. I imagine it is not for everyone. Can you recommend anything else by him?

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      1. From what I know of his books, as long as you’re okay with heavy topics, they’re all good. The most well-known seem to be Mercy Among the Children, The Bay of Love and Sorrows, and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down. They sound cheery, don’t they? 😉

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  3. If you miss the characters, he often has characters show up in multiple books. It’s been a long time since I read these, so I don’t remember who or where right now! I think Evening Snow will Bring Such Peace was my fav of this series (the title alone!) but Mercy Among the Children is the best. I’ve read all his old stuff, but haven’t kept up with him in the last few years (he’s super prolific) and this reminds me I should catch up!

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    1. I love it when authors do that… characters showing up in multiple books. Sebastián Barry does it and it’s always such a thrill when you read a novel and recognise a reference even though the books aren’t necessarily part of a series.

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