The word "ordinary" can be used quite frequently to describe
certain aspects of Michael Knight's stories in GOODNIGHT, NOBODY
--- ordinary people leading ordinary lives, doing ordinary things.
The stories in this collection aren't wrought with thick drama that
seeps through the pages and there are no wild turns of events here.
These stories are quiet and unassuming yet, even so, have a
richness permeating through them that makes the entire book
The collection is a tapestry, with different topics and different
kinds of people. In "Birdland," a subtle romance, an ornithologist
tracks the migration habits of African parrots --- and is lured to
the town's resident carver. In "Blackout" there are two couples, a
downed power line, a dead neighbor, some miscommunication and night
vision goggles. In "Killing Stonewall Jackson," Confederate
soldiers contemplate the man who sent them to the battle. From
India to Alabama, Knight serves up characters who have bad luck
from time to time but do their best to roll with the punches, to
believe in love and family and to trust that everything will turn
out okay (sometimes less than okay) in the end.
At the beginning of one of the better stories in the collection,
"Feeling Lucky," Knight writes "Midnight, and Bruce Little was
hunched against a pay phone under the awning of the Saint John
Divine Hotel, shivering with cold and dialing collect to
Mississippi." It's an ordinary scene and an ordinary sentence, but
he brings that scene into immediate focus and our burgeoning
thoughts of Bruce Little quickly into view. He spins stories out of
such scenes and characters like Bruce Little, run-of-the-mill
people who lead run-of-the-mill lives yet, nonetheless, have a
story to tell.
These toned-down and mellow characters, however, may not captivate
readers who want something more out of their stories --- something
snappy and sizzling that a T.C. Boyle or a Thom Jones might
produce. This is not what readers will find when they open Knight's
book. The plots turn slowly, the words fall on the page like
whispers and the tone is subdued. Instead of, say, a carnival,
Knight's stories are nights by the hearth with a blanket thrown
over and scratchy jazz records playing on the turntable nearby.
Carnivals are fine, but so are quiet nights.
Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 22, 2011