Alice Leccese Powers looks back at Alice McDermott’s The Night in this week’s “You Must Read This” on NPR. Powers considers the book an exploration into her own childhood on Long Island, and that the McDermott “claims Long Island her territory, just as surely as Faulkner’s was Mississippi.”
I read The Night in 1992, shortly before the movie version hit VHS. My friends and I loved C. Thomas Howell in those pants, and Juliette Lewis in that skirt, and we knew how Alice felt in her worship of their characters, Rick and Sheryl. We idolised them, too. At that time, alongside Where the Day Takes You, That Night was the movie we most wanted to inhabit. But our reaction to the film, and my reaction to the book, were markedly different to Powers’. Growing up in suburban Long Island was, quite literally, worlds away from rural Victoria. Us rural kids really didn’t have a romantic rebel to drool over, or a beautiful, misunderstood urchin to emulate. Neighbors didn’t interact, and folks generally stayed out of each others’ business. We went to school, we went home, and we waited to grow up.
No one was writing about our experiences — the sun-drenched Goulburn Valley was no one’s idea of fertile literary territory, and so we adopted Sheryl and Rick as our own, and we talked about them, dissected their personalities, and stuck their pictures in frames — a far more intimate form of tribute that simply pinning their posters to the wall.
In our minds, the world was just like McDermott’s. We didn’t long for disaffected teens to get pregnant just so we could awe at them, but we wanted heroes, boys and girls who stood out, because no one stood out in our town. So, while Powers remembers That Night as representative of her experience, I remember it as opening my friends and I up to experiences we would otherwise never have known existed. Even though we didn’t see them, there were rebels out there, and our time would come.