Night Soul and Other Stories 

The Influential Fiction of Joseph McElroy

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THINGS ARE HAPPENING in Joseph McElroy's Night Soul and Other Stories—a man blows out his tire in a dark street and is taken in by a stranger, an unemployed poet finds friendship with his wife's nine-year-old Arab student amid both real and imagined terrorist threats, and a new father finds his nocturnal mind drifting into the repetitive mouth sounds formed by his baby as it lies in its crib—but in the school of McElroy, these occurrences are merely points, which are connected to other points within the stories, and the stories are not about what happens and what will happen next, but what the mind is thinking, examining, noticing on the nightstand, during, after, and before these points.

There are no linear conventions, and while this may not be new to writing, McElroy was one of the first in American literature to accomplish this particular type of impressionistic and poetic narrative structure. Often, he's compared to Pynchon and cited as an influence on DeLillo. Postmodern elements do surge in his deconstructionism, but unlike the aforementioned, there is a lack of instruction to his text. Pynchon warps his plots and sentences—really a lovely nightmare for Microsoft Word—and DeLillo tackles large conundrums (think: assassination of JFK), but there is a simultaneous quiet and restlessness in McElroy's language that somehow doesn't seek to call attention to itself. That quality allows him to reinvent simple family or relationship stories into something far more insidious, and original, than what DeLillo may be able to cook up.

Simultaneity abounds in Night Soul. McElroy occupies several people at once, as well as the city/state of New York, which has always appeared in his fiction, though it's refreshing to see the use of that geographic area without the usual construct of our Woody Allen upper-middle class preconceptions, presented instead as simply a home, a place to be from, but always important. It becomes especially important, however, when McElroy obliquely and overtly addresses 9/11, but there's something calm and collected in that address. McElroy understands there are those who think in the present, those who really feel the wrongs done to them, but he writes of those who've always felt they are everywhere on the timeline at once, grieving and grieved. These complexities, collectively, make for what is an excellent and full read.

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