Cover Image: Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.

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In A Clear Midnight Walt Whitman writes: “This is thy hour, O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless, Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done, Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best. Night, sleep, death and the stars.”  In this massive book (800 pages), Joyce Carol Oates uses Whitman's poem to epitomize the reactions, both superficial and deep, of a woman and her five grown children to the death of their husband and father Whitey McLaren.  As she so often does, Oates penetrates the layers of complexities that make up human beings as she explores both personal and underlying contemporary social issues, such as racism, social and economic inequities, the role of the family, the meaning of marriage, and many more.  One by one, through interwoven stories and chapters devoted to each person's perspective and story, this intimate yet animated family portrait peels back some of the layers of those complexities to reveal the sorts of transformations to which Whitman's poem refers.  (The book should come with a warning to widowed persons. The chapters devoted to Jessalyn’s inner and outer struggle with widowhood will touch emotions and open scars that are emotionally difficult to read, no matter how recent or past is one’s loss.)  The closing chapter, with its visit to the Galapagos Islands, is a particularly fitting summation.  Whitman’s poetry is sparse, Oates’ prose is not, but both are brilliant pieces of writing. Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars is not a fast or easy read.  But its rewards are rich as it offers food for the soul.  Highly recommended.
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So I started reading this just before the protests started, and I was surprised how relevant the subject matter ended up being. The initial conflict, which takes place in the prologue, involves explicit police brutality and has some devastating consequences. I’m not usually someone who will avoid or seek out topical books to read, so this coinciding with real-world events didn’t really affect my reading either way. That said, I wanted to give people a heads-up before diving in because the description provided doesn’t mention that as far as I can see.

I haven’t read anything by Joyce Carole Oates before, so I had no idea she wrote these absolute tomes when I requested this one. Truthfully, it’s difficult for me to stay focused on something so long, unless it’s a faster-paced plot. This one was a little too meandering for me to fully absorb, so I left a middle of the road rating for it. 

But for those who are already fans of Oates, you’ll probably like this. The characters are complex and well-developed, the writing is beautiful and though it may be a ‘family drama’, the tension feels real and earned. A lot of reviewers I follow and who’s opinions I value really loved Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars, so don’t discount this one just because it didn’t work for me!
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This just wasn't my cup of tea. I stopped reading it and it took me weeks to pick it back up and finish it. Thank you to NetGalley, Ecco, and HarperCollins for the ARC in exchange for an honest review of Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates. The main thing is that the writing feels amateur to say that JCO is such a titan in the literary community. The characters are unlikable and not in a fun way. I also didn't care for the alternative look on police brutality done on a wealthy white Republican man. I can somewhat understand what was trying to be done and there were some interesting parts with the family dynamic but it was just a boring look at bad things happening to a miserable family. I just don't think it's the narrative needed at this moment.
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As incredible as ever, JC Oates wows with every sentence. Beautiful, lyrical, magical writing. Loved every twist, every character.
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I found this new Oates novel breathtaking in its visionary approach to dealing with the changes in characters lives over an immense period of time. He intertwining humor and urgent drama were expertly handled.  Her dialogue gave rise to her characters' significant life issues and the dialogue helped make them memorable.
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Having been a fan of this author's previous books, I was all in when this partial galley was being made available to read.

I started it this morning and finished it. Cannot wait for September! See publisher's and other reviewers for the tale's details. . . .this is my response to today's read:

So far, if you are looking for dragons, they are not here. This is SCI-FI, for sure, and although the older I get, the less I'm into sci-fi, this has my 110% attention. There's a girl and a boy on a spaceship, and when the heavy petting happens in the first chapters you know that's not a good thing (think red shirts). . . .I was concerned when all seemed lost in the next chapter and then *boom* the author blows your mind with a game changer, and I stayed in till the "to be continued, see you in Sept 2020" last line.

If you like your sci-fi off-planet, or The Martian or any of those other books where aliens possess humans, space vehicles get their own names (Dave, Ron, Sheila, Bishop, etc.) and converse freely. . . .yeah. You'll dig this.

5 stars, each wringing all 5 points as they wait for Sept 2020!

An enthusiastic thank you to Christopher Paolini, Tor Books and NetGalley for providing me an ARC to read and review.
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It's hard to write about Joyce Carol Oates books. They are epic novels - 800 + pages, full of emotion and genius. As with many of her books, Night, Sleep.Death.The Stars. is the saga of an American family. Whitey McClaren is the former mayor of small upstate New York town. He stops when he see two cops beating a (not white) man. The police do not realize it's Whitey and repeatedly use their taser funs - which leads to a fatal stroke. 

Much like We Were the Mulvaneys - this is the story of what happens after. Of Whitey's widow and 5 adult children. Yes, there are many, many characters but that's the beauty of Oates work - each person, each narrator, each character could be an 800 page book in itself. 

This is another powerful book from one of the greatest fiction writers in America. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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As soon as I realized that Joyce Carol Oats had a new book coming out, I knew I wanted to read it.  Whitey is the main character in this book but you will only know him briefly at the very beginning.  He is a 67 year old former mayor and he is well respected in his home town.    Whitey is the McClaren family patriarch.  He is the husband of his beloved Jessalyn and the father of five adult children.  His children love him deeply and they all seem obsessed with pleasing him and making him proud.  All except Virgil his youngest son.  
When Whitey witnesses a brutal attack by the police on the side of the road he does not hesitate to try to stop the beating of an Indian man behind held down. Whitey may have saved the man’s life but the police then turn their brutality on Whitey.
When Jessalyn and her children are called to the hospital they are told that Whitey has suffered a stroke.  What actually happened to Whitey is revealed some time later.  
Although Whitey does not survive the attack his spiritual presence is clearly felt by the family for months to come.  Each family member’s individual grief and struggles are explored in this  800 page book. The reader get to intimately know Jessalyn and the five adult children.  Their  dependance on Whitey as the head of the family is devastating to each family member in many different ways.   Each adult child is very different in personality and temperament.  Their family relationships with each other is often quite upsetting.  I really found this book to be most interesting and by the time I finished I had some strong empathetic feelings for most of the  family members. Initially I was really not liking them at all. 
I received an ARC from the publisher HarperCollins and Netgalley.  This is my unbiased review.
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800 pages of pure legacy reading that I struggled to put down. 
I love JCO and have read so many of her books, I was so excited to dive deeply into this one. 
What starts out with a racial profiling tragedy, ends up deeply examining a family all the way to its' core. Some of the characters in the family are more likable than others, but isn't that the way of life? 
Throw in a little mystery trying to get to the bottom of the police cover up, some romance and the real, raw emotions of a family that is coming to know themselves again through the loss of a patriarch, and you have a thorough all encompassing read. 
Not for the light hearted, as 800 pages of deep intensity is nothing to scoff at, it will definitely leave a mark. 
Thank you so so much NetGalley for the ARC. So so happy I read it!
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This was my first ever Joyce Carol Oates and it certainly will not be my last. I blown away by the writing and character in this novel!

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. has virtually no plot to speak of. It reads almost like an internal monologue. If you've read Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman, that should give you a sense of the sort of writing structure you'll find it this book. As I haven't read her before, I'm not sure if this is the typical style for Joyce Carol Oates but either way, I really fell in love. What I found especially impressive was the author's ability to shift between one character perspective and another, sometimes in a single sentence, with perfect clarity. This naturalistic style really made this book a true pleasure to read and so easy to get lost in despite the meandering storyline.

I don't mean to imply by saying that it is plot-less, that the story in any way unengaging. It really took me no time at all to become completely absorbed in the McClarren family. Especially at the start there is the kind of drama and family dynamics that are so awful you just can't look away. At the time I was finding myself comparing it to HBO's Succession. Later it transitions more into an exploration of grief and how the family members deal (or don't deal) with loss. The perspective of the mother is especially intimate and piercing. The portraits are as sharp and unfiltered as only one's internal monologue can be.

I was surprised, and pleased, to see one of the centrals themes be that of police violence and racial (in)justice in America. I had not expected that from this novel which I thought would be about a family's path through grief. I really appreciate this angle of the novel, it's just so timely and really rounded out an otherwise timeless story.

Really loved this one and will definitely be diving into Joyce Carol Oates back catalogue as a result!
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"How we sift through ourselves, with others. Clasping at hands that turn transparent, that dissolve in our touch. Crying out No! Wait! Don't leave me, I can't live without you-and in the next instant they are gone, and we remain, alive." - Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. 

SYNOPSIS: Night Sleep Death The Stars is a gripping examination of contemporary America through the prism of a family tragedy: when a powerful parent dies, each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all. - Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. 

REVIEW: Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollins Publishers/ Ecco, and Joyce Carol Oates for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a story about a family, a powerful loss, and the resulting grief and change from that loss. How a family can come together and fall apart in the wake of a death. Overall, I thought I would enjoy this book more than I did, and looking at other reviews it seems like the majority did like this book. For me, I found the plot of this book to be really thin, and it took me such a long time to get through this book. I found myself gravitating towards other books that I was also reading at the time instead of this one. This book is meant to be more on the slow side, but I felt that it didn't keep my attention enough and the emotional content to me was more irritating than captivating. 

I think my biggest struggle in the book was with the characters, I hated almost all of them. All the children in the family (maybe besides one) were horrible people in one way or another, and I found myself not being able to connect to any of them. It didn't make it better that a lot of the characters also hated each other. There was such a familial disconnect in this book, and half the time I begged the characters to just run and move away elsewhere. I also felt like the characters didn't see tremendous growth throughout the book. Their circumstances changed for sure, but I felt that they were more-or-less of the same person, still quite unhappy.  Except for who I am calling the main character, Jessalyn, who did show growth and more change than anyone else. It was hard for me to make it through the book when I could not stand the characters and did not care about their stories.

Another thing that bothered me was the (in my opinion) overuse of parenthesis. In one section of the book, I swear that at least half of some of the pages were contained in parentheses. It made the book feel so choppy and took me out of the story. However, towards the end of the book, this got a little better, so that makes me think that this was on purpose, but I didn't understand it. There were definitely some good parts of the book, and some good thoughts to ponder over, I just found these to be few and far between. I thought the ending was good and fit the tone of the rest of the book, although I do have some spoiler-like thoughts about it, which I won't share here. 

Overall, I am disappointed that I didn't like this book more! It was clear that this book was just not for me, and not something that I can really relate to at this stage in my life. I was looking forward to reading it, as I quite like longer books. Especially when they are about families and the dysfunctions in their lives. I may decide to look into Joyce Carol Oates' other books and see if any of those interest me since she seems to be a popular writer.

RELEASE DATE: June 9, 2020
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Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This was my first book by Joyce Carol Oates, and I’ve been trying to work out how I feel about this book.  Sweeping family sagas are usually some of my favorite books, but something about this book didn’t quite work for me.  This novel is about the sudden death of a father and the impact of that death on his wife and children.  I think the reason why I didn’t love this book is simply because I didn’t like any of the characters.  By the end of the book, I didn’t much care about what happened to any of the children, though I did hope that the widow would find happiness.  800 pages is a long time to spend with characters I don’t like.
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Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars stands out as one of JCO's best examinations of family. The McLaren family is devastated when its patriarch, Whitey, dies as a result of a stroke triggered by police brutality. Most aware of the facts, the oldest son, Thom, needs to see the police punished. The youngest son, in learning that equal inheritances have been given to all of the children, finally feels that he is loved. The three daughters handle Whitey's death in their own ways, with one losing her already tenuous grip with reality, another comparing her husband to Whitey, and another looking for solace in a doomed relationship.
The biggest surprise is seen in the widow Jessalyn, and I couldn't help think of Joyce Carol Oates also becoming widowed after a long marriage. This book goes a long way in showing that the ways we deal with grief may be unexpected and bewildering to others but are nevertheless genuine and necessary.

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and I'm so glad to have had this opportunity. I'm a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates and I easily became caught up in this story and gleaned some valuable insights into parenting, aging, and death.
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Thank you NetGalley for the free ARC. I usually love Joyce Carol Oates and the themes in her books, but I struggled wit the characters in this book because they were all so damaged. When the patriarch of a family dies in bizarre circumstances, the wife and children struggle after his death and boy, do they struggle. From the mother's new and "nifty" boyfriend to the children's struggle with mental illness and grief and jealousy and... ugh.
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This is Classic JCO. This was FANTASTIC. Ok, so it's a long book. If that intimidates you, maybe get over it because Joyce chooses every word for a reason and everything matters. This one was set in Hammond New York and reminiscent to me of We Were the Mulvaneys in it's deep study of the dynamics within family systems. The McClarens, a wealthy family, are the focus of the book this is a deep, sometimes dark examination of their relationship with each other (and themselves) when the patriarch dies. This unexpected tragedy affects each of them—Jessalyn, the widow, and the adult children Thom, Beverly, Lorene, Virgil, and Sophia—in very different ways. This book covers some heavy topics such as: grief, racial injustice, psychological trauma and healing after a death in a family. Full disclosure: I lost my mom this past year and had to set this aside a couple of times because it was digging up some of my own trauma. I think it should also be said that these characters are not all people that you're gonna cheer for. Some of them are just detestable, but in their own right, they don't realize it and think they know best. I really enjoyed this, though it was not at all a "feel good" novel. Not to say that there weren't some funny parts in there- but this was a heavy read- literally (800 pages) and figuratively. I will always read JCO. I love how she writes family and how she draws from her own life experience. I am sure that Jessamyn's feelings came straight from her own experience as a widow. All the stars for this. Not that I expected otherwise.
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Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. starts out with a horrific tragedy - an elderly white man (Whitey McLaren) attempts to stop police from brutally beating an innocent (dark-skinned) man on the side of the freeway, only to be brutally tasered and beaten himself. The attack causes him to have a stroke, and he dies from complications of the stroke within a few days. This story follows Whitey's family as they navigate the aftermath of his beating and subsequent death.

I found this book difficult to get through, largely because it so authentically documents the struggles of this family. Jessalyn, Whitey's widow, struggles with loneliness, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of guilt as she tries to move on. Perhaps most powerfully, she struggles to find her own identity after a lifetime of "Whitey's wife." The book also follows the struggles of their five children, but I found Jessalyn's story to be the most powerful. Her chapters, although often gut-wrenching, were absolutely stunning. Her character arc is the most dramatic, by far. At the beginning of the book, she is "sweet Jessalyn" - the devoted wife of Whitey McLaren. Much of the book is devoted to following her struggle to navigate her grief and the loss of her identity as Whitey's wife. The children have their own struggles, too. Virgil, the baby of the family and the black sheep, struggles with guilt that he may have caused his father's death. Sophia, the second-youngest and the family scientist, quits a job experimenting on mice, because she feels Whitey would have been disappointed in her if he knew what she really did for a living. Lorene, the bossy, mean-spirited middle child, seems to slide out of control. As a high school principal, she lashes out at teachers and students who she perceives to be her "enemies." Beverly, the second oldest, is an unhappy housewife who fills her days by constantly gossiping with her siblings about their mother. Thom, the responsible oldest child, takes over the family business, but leaves behind his wife and children. He also becomes obsessed with a lawsuit against the police department, believing it will avenge his father.

On top of all this, there are also themes of racism and police brutality. Whitey is killed because he tries to stop the police from beating an Indian man, whom the police initially believed was black. When Jessalyn starts dating a Hispanic man, her older children are horrified. They immediately assume the worst of him - that's he's a criminal, a low-life, homeless, and only after Jessalyn's money. And there are touches of sexism, too. Whitey ties up much of his money in a trust that Jessalyn can't access, because he didn't think "sweet Jessalyn" could be trusted to make wise choices with it. The older children actively fight against her entire character arc, as she becomes more independent and leaves behind a more subordinate identity. At one point, they even talk about getting power-of-attorney over her, because they don't approve of the man she's dating.

In these days of coronavirus and news reports filled with death tolls, this book hit close to home - at times, closer than I was entirely comfortable with. I found the older children to be thoroughly repugnant characters, and they do very little to redeem themselves. But good literature is not always comfortable, and this is certainly good literature.
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Thank you Netgalley for this ARC. I have been a fan of JCO and her (often) dark domestic dramas for as long as I can remember. Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. is her latest family drama featuring The McClarens. When Whitey McClaren suffers a stroke, his wife and five children immediately are at his hospital bedside.. This story effortlessly weaves between the POV of his wife and children, with only a paragraph break indicating a new character is speaking or thinking. The beauty in family dramas is the complexity of each member and JCO is an expert at revealing startling truths in understated style. As each child and Whitey’s wife come to terms with his condition, you learn of the individual relationships between each McClaren. JCO’s novels are often slow builds,(not slow, don’t misinterpret) that as a reader you are often a huge fan of, or you absolutely do not like. Her novels require total engagement and immersion and are not of the often flippant story lines that are becoming popular of late. If you give her your full attention, you will come away with an in-depth experience that is akin to being a “fly on the wall” of some incredibly complex families. I highly recommend this book.
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In person Joyce Carol Oates (JCO) has an air almost of detachment, looking over your shoulder as if at something or someone more interesting, "over there."  But in her writing, she displays a deep well of empathy in her characters.  Over her prodigious career, she has created enough characters to populate a small towns,, possibly a city, and from my recollection, no two are alike.  I've been reading her for over 40 years, and given the amount of novels and short stories that have flowed from her, it was still amazing to read Widow, her account of her life after the death of her first husband, of her profound grief and depiction of a full life spent away from the keyboard.  When does she find the time to produce such a body of work.  

Now in her 80's, she takes for her title a line from a poem by Walt Whitman (when does she have time to read?), and presents an 800-page masterwork on grief and its effect on a widow and her five adult children.   Each person is so clearly realized and given such potent inner lives, each child thinks they know what's best for the Mom they remembered as an adjunct to their beloved father, who wasn't such a saint after all.   In other hands, this material could feel bloated and padded, but JCO has managed to make every page necessary, and while I usually don't find novels of such length intriguing, I found this one required every step.
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Joyce Carol Oates builds communities, populating them with families that grow and mature as we read.  NIGHT, SLEEP, DEATH. THE STARS  begins as she introduces us to Whitey, the father of this family who will die as the result of many of life's prejudices, leaving his wife and children to build their lives as best they can.  The story is a long one, but there is so much life in the volume that it does not seem long.  As the five children and their mother move through life without Whitey, it's amazing to see the changes wrought in their lives.  This book is most definitely a deeply emotional tale of the life of this remarkable family.
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An 800 page book doesn't scare me. Some of my favorite books are whoppers. 

The number of pages are irrelevant when one becomes immersed in detailed characters, propelled by foreshadowing through their actions and weaknesses, touched by universal truths of human nature.

Oates latest novel explores the impact of death on a family. 

I was sucked into the story, eagerly looking forward to reading and learning more about these characters. To discover if I was right about what would come. 

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. begins with the sudden death of a family patriarch. Whitey stopped to investigate what appeared, and was, a case of police profiling and brutality. He was their next victim. He did not survive.

Whitey was 67---my age. He was his wife Jessalyn's reason for existence, her lodestone; he defined her. In deep shock, she plummets into a private despair hidden behind her self-effacing thoughtfulness for others.

The children, as children do, decide what must be done, how their mother should 'be', and when her actions do not conform with expectations, they reel off into obsessions and fears and anger. 

The family balance is thrown off. The children carry their individual burdens. Some believed they were 'favorite' sons or daughters, while others strove to gain their father's approval. One had given up trying.

After many months, a man enters Jessalyn's life who takes her under his care. She rejects his attentions in horror, but allows him to slowly change her, alter her, and bring her back into the land of the living.

The children are incensed, complain to each other, demand someone do something. Mom has been acting incorrectly. Mom has chosen the wrong man. Mom has a feral cat in the house.

Oh, I have seen this! The children who resent the second spouse. I myself scared off a woman who had set her sights on my newly widowed father! Yes, I did! 

I was increasingly horrified as the novel got darker and darker, delving into the black hearts of these children. They are murderers and self-abusers and suicidal misfits and long-suffering, angry wives. 

Each sibling must find their way out of their despair and illness. I expected Jessalyn to change into a 'modern heroine', evolving into her own woman. To leave passivity behind. She finds happiness, but not growth. 

This story disturbed my sleep. It was an emotional journey.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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