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The Telling is the Art: A Look at Lee Martin’s LATE ONE NIGHT

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I remember attending a reading at a downtown art gallery in Nacogdoches in 2009. The author was Lee Martin, still fresh as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his novel THE BRIGHT FOREVER, of which he read from that evening. At the time, I was purely bent on reading contemporary poetry, but Martin’s reading that night rattled me and I (along with a line of others) rushed the signing table afterwards and purchased his novel. It’s still one of the best readings I’ve been to. Within 20 minutes, Martin made me care about what would eventually happen in his fictional summer catastrophe. Essentially, Martin understands, more than many writers I know, the craft of telling a good story, simply put. And I think storytelling as an art is elusive. What happens when we place that above theme or figurative language? Are we settling for less? Which is more substantive: the plot of conflict or the discussion of its ramifications? Sometimes I feel we as readers disregard the telling of a story for whatever it points to.

Martin’s newest novel, LATE ONE NIGHT, released in paperback last year by Dzanc Books, tells the story of an Illinois trailer fire in which a mother and three of her seven children burn. The book’s narrative arc is the search for the fire’s source and the unraveling of secrets in the small town. Aside from the obvious conflict of a fire, Martin constructs other avenues of unrest: How do the four remaining children begin a new life with their father who left them and is also suspected of arson? The guilt of another man raising his mentally disabled son incorrectly. How will one of the surveying children live knowing they saw the fire start and did nothing but go back to sleep? Martin pockets these instances of regret so masterfully within a narrative that begs to be read further and further. The reader simply has to know.

Told in a circular form, Martin creates a sort of drain effect, a quickening of plot as the reader gets closer to the answer. He employs cinematic-like jump cuts; the way information is given is not straight forward, but carefully pieced out. LATE ONE NIGHT is a classic page turner, and Martin is smart to keep readers guessing. What his writing style ultimately does is keep readers so engaged in the “finding out,” keeps them so present that they must pay attention to the human conflicts at the heart of the story. It’s sort of how humor in writing can jolt us and all of a sudden we’re more involved in the text. Martin forces his readers to consider his characters’ heartbreaks by teasing out a thriller. He says in an interview with AM/FM Magazine, “What causes me to first put words on the page is a desire to figure out something about human behavior.”

LATE ONE NIGHT does just this: it extracts from a horrific and mysterious event the way our lives can become dictated by regret or perhaps liberated by self-forgiveness. And at the heart of the novel is a writer seemingly saying, I’ll make you care about this story.

Late One Night Cover Image
ISBN: 9781945814303
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Dzanc Books - August 22nd, 2017