Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Night Navigation by Ginnah Howard, a review

Ginnah Howard's novel Night Navigation was sent to me by the publisher, and I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a needle-sharp look into the life of a mentally ill drug addict, and his relationship with a loving but frustrated mother, who can't help but give him one more chance, over and over again.

Howard's novel alternates focus between the viewpoint of Del Merrick, a mother in late middle age, who would like to be focusing on her art and living a normal life, and the viewpoint of Del's deeply troubled adult son Mark, who has fallen back into drug addiction, and therefore back into Del's life. Both Del and Mark also have to contend with the ghosts of Mark's father and brother (Del's late husband and her other son), and guilt over their deaths. Through the course of the story, mother and son come together, and come apart, and find out more about themselves and each other in the process.

Howard writes matter-of-factly about the horrendous life of a drug addict; the desperation, the manipulation of everyone around them, the physical pain of addiction, the casual way violence enters the lives of those who cannot manage their own lives and become slaves to drugs. It's compelling to watch, kind of like a train wreck--and it's definitely not for the faint of heart.

Bleak, yes, but I really enjoyed the poetic imagery Howard employs to tell her grim tale. And there is some hope infused here, too. Del is a relatable character, even if you aren't a mother. But if you are, it is oh so painful to imagine yourself in her situation. She has been bound to these men she has loved, and they have either died or are in the process of killing themselves. It is a hard thing to read about, and yet Del's life, in the every day, is quite beautiful. She is an artist, she lives surrounded by rural beauty, and when writing about Del's life, Howard's writing showcases the beauty that exists in the mundane, if we only open our eyes to see it.


litlove said...

Wow - interesting but a tough read, I should imagine. It sounds (you make it sound, generously, warmly) like the author did a very good job of finding balance for the reader in a heart-rending situation.

verbivore said...

This kind of book can be very hard to pull off without alienating your reader - sounds like the author did an admirable job.

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--it was definitely a tough read. Not something I probably would have picked up on my own, but I was compelled to finish--once I was immersed in the dark world, I needed to see how things would come out.

verbivore--Yes, you're right, the author did an admirable job not alienating the reader. The material is difficult, and the characters inherently unlikeable on the surface--narcisstic drug addict, enabling mother. It's really a credit to the writer that she was able to make me care about these people, and they didn't come off as cliched.

Anonymous said...

If you enjoyed that you might like Unless by Carol Shields, which is sad but it stayed with me for its beauty.

Gentle Reader said...

liliannattel--ooh, good suggestion. I've only ever read The Stone Diaries, and I've wanted to read more Carol Shields. Thanks!

viagra online said...

I'm still reading the book and it's getting scary, I use to read on nights haha with my lamp, feels better for me, thanks for the review, I will keep reading.