Thursday, December 29, 2011

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

Last year I read Horn’s book The World to Come and I loved it. All Other Nights is nothing like that book and indeed if I didn’t know they were written by the same author I would never have guessed. All Other Nights is straight historical fiction with a linear plot. It completely lacks the whimsy and playfulness of The World to ComeAll Other Nights is an easier read but not nearly as much fun.

This book tells the story of Jacob Rappaport and his experiences during the American Civil War. Rappaport is Jewish, from New York, the son of a wealthy businessman. At the beginning of the book he joins the Union army to escape from his overbearing father. Recruited as a spy, Jacob must constantly navigate the gray areas of conflict: his first assignment is to travel to New Orleans and assassinate his own uncle, who is plotting to kidnap Abraham Lincoln, and things get even trickier from there.

In my last post about The Cookbook Collector, I said that a book can have imperfections and still be a good read. That was true for TCC and it’s true for All Other Nights as well. Horn’s depictions of Jacob’s struggles (both physical and moral) are engrossing to read but Jacob himself is flat and unremarkable. He’s someone to whom things happen, but I don’t think that was Horn’s intention. It’s like she tried to make him interesting by putting him into interesting situations but that wasn’t enough to overcome his essential torpidity. Some of the secondary characters provide much needed punch, but often they just seem strangely out of place, like the girl who speaks only in palindromes; she could have wandered in from The World to Come, now that I think of it.

(Book 38, 2011)


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