Intriguingly, Night Wherever We Go is narrated in the third-person plural. The six women at the heart of it, all slaves on a Texas smallholding, are apparently telling their story through a single voice.
The device only serves to highlight how fragmented they are. They are six very different characters, and while their enforced intimacy leads to moments of kindness and solidarity, they don’t appear to form close friendships. More often they are thrown into conflict, both by their temperaments and by the nature of their oppression. Still, they resist, using the limited means at their disposal. It is this resistance which forms the backbone of the story.
The six women are the property of a white couple, the Harlows, who are struggling to make a success of their smallholding. The Harlows bring in a ‘stockman’, a male slave to impregnate the women, so they can sell off any children. The women are forced to have sex with him, but they have one weapon – a natural remedy which inhibits pregnancy.
Stories of family, fertility and intimacy are at the heart of Night Wherever We Go. While Lizzie Harlow, constantly pregnant, bemoans her lack of control over her own body and her constant labours, the slaves know that for them motherhood can only mean loss. This is true even for Patience, who has her young son with her. When he is moved into the Harlows’ house as a houseboy, he becomes increasingly shy and distant with her.
The financially precarious position of the Harlows means the women are protected from some of the worst brutality meted out to slaves in large plantations – whipping or execution would deprive their owners of their one asset. However, they are still subject to arbitrary treatment, and their proximity to the Harlows creates other problems.
Junie grew up in Lizzie’s mother’s household, and her mother was the family cook. Lizzie both asserts her authority over Junie and claims a bond. Junie resents her, but also wants to stay close to her, because it is only through Lizzie’s letters from relatives that she might get news of her own children, who were taken from her and sold to other members of Lizzie’s family.
A couple of things threw me. One is a point later in the narrative where the story suddenly shifts into the point of view of another character. Another is a future foreshadowed but with no insight into how the characters will get there.
Still, Night Wherever We Go is an evocative and absorbing read, portraying brutality and cruelty but shot through with defiance and hope.
I received a copy of Night Wherever We Go from the publisher via NetGalley.
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