The New York Times–bestselling author’s heart-wrenching chronicle of a woman and her niece, who attempt to build the relationship they longed for all their lives
Luanne Rice knows women. The author of thirty-one novels, Rice is a master at creating vivid female characters and capturing their complex family dynamics, and Little Night is one of her most powerful novels yet.
Clare Burke’s life took a devastating turn when she defended her sister, Anne, from an abusive husband and ended up serving prison time for assault. Nearly twenty years later—long estranged from her sister—Clare is living a quiet life in Manhattan as an urban birder and nature blogger, when Anne’s daughter, Grit, shows up on her doorstep. When it appears that Anne has followed Grit, each woman wonders what their long-awaited reunion will bring. Little Night is a riveting story about women and the primal, tangled family ties that bind them together.
February 14, 1993
My hands are bandaged, but I’m not supposed to care that they hurt. When i was treated at the scene, the husky EMT said flatly, “He’s a lot worse off than you.” The police officer had to remove my handcuffs; he snapped on latex gloves to avoid having to touch my burned palms and wrists.
They drove me in a squad car to the East Hampton station house for booking, and finally into the sheriff’s van for the ride here to the county jail, fifteen miles away in Mashomuck.
I’ll tell you one detail because it’s frozen in my mind. The phrase “two to the head.” That’s what I’ve been hearing since the police arrived. “She gave him two to the head.” Then they laugh at me. it’s supposed to be a big joke about how inept Ii was.
This enormous, shaved-head bodybuilding sheriff acted it out for me in the van on the way here. “One,” he said, pretending to clobber the other sheriff over the head. “Two.” He imitated the second blow. Then, “Ouch,” he said as he waggled his fingers at me and winked nastily at my bandaged hands. “You burned yourself as bad as you hurt him, but he’s going to the hospital and you’re going to jail.”
I’d like to block his words out. They make this seem like any other crime, one of the salacious stories you see on CNN Headline news. To the outside i suppose all crimes are the same—someone attacks, another is injured. It’s only in a person’s mind and heart, only within the soul of any given family that the entire tender, brutal, surreal story makes any sense.
I say “family,” but it might only be me. i have three blood relatives in this world: Anne, my older and only sister, and her children, a niece and nephew i barely know because her husband has cut us off so thoroughly. Blood is one thing, but to be family, you need so much more.
This morning I’d reached my breaking point on that and taken the LIRR out east, unannounced, to show up with roses for Anne and books and Valentines for the kids. I chose late morning, when Frederik would be at his gallery. The day was bright blue but frigid, no humidity, a sharp wind whirling around Montauk Point.
i caught a cab from the station to their house on Old Montauk Highway. I was a wreck, thinking she’d slam the door in my face. But she didn’t—she let me in. Right now I can hardly stand the memory of seeing the shock and joy in her eyes, feeling our strong embrace, as if our lives in that instant had been reset, back to the time before him.
The children didn’t know who I was. They’re only three and five, and I last saw them all at my mother’s funeral a year ago, when Frederik had dragged the family away from the gravesite before Anne and I had a chance to console each other, or even speak.
For twenty minutes today we had a good time. The house was freezing; obviously the heat was turned way down. Anne, Gillis (“Gilly”), and Margarita (“Grit”) wore warm shirts and fleece pullovers. I kept my jacket on. We huddled around the hearth where two logs sparked with a dull glow; a third had barely caught, flames just licking the top edge.
The brass screen had been set aside, as if to keep the wire mesh from holding back the fading warmth. I glanced around for a poker, but saw nothing to stoke the fire. There didn’t seem to be any more wood either.
I was afraid to ask about the heat, or lack of it. Anything can trigger Anne, especially when it comes to Frederik. She might have taken my question as implied criticism of his ability or willingness to provide basic needs for his family. She’s very defensive about him. But the truth is, she’s always had a strange, secret side when it came to men. She puts them on pedestals, and then subverts them in ways they’d never guess.
I’ll confess something else: Anne and i had probably been the closest sisters on earth, but we have never been completely, one-hundred-percent easy with each other. i don’t believe Anne can be that way with anyone.
Praise for LITTLE NIGHT:
“Poetic and stirring . . . beautifully combines [Rice’s] love nature and the power of family.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Best-selling author Rice’s 30th book is an outstanding read that both chills and warms the soul . . . highly recommended.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Never rushing her story or revelations, Rice reaches the satisfying conclusion that while wounds run deep, love runs deeper.”
“A classic Rice page-turner.”
“In Little Night, Rice plumbs the depths of the damage that physical and mental abuse cause the recipients and allows us into the heads of those who suffer these situations. In spite of the serious nature of the subject matter, the story is filled with happy moments and an undying hope for future happiness.”
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