A brilliantly imagined, lavish, and transporting novel of a young woman’s search for the truth about her family’s mythic past
Meg Mabry has spent her life with her back turned to her legendary family legacy. In the 1890s her great-grandmother Hannah Bass composed starkly revealing diaries of her life on the southwestern frontier, first as a Harvey Girl at the glamorous Montezuma Resort in New Mexico and later as the wife of brilliant, and often-absent, railway engineer Eliott Bass. A generation later, Hannah’s daughter, Claudia Bass, renowned historian known to all as Bassie, staked her academic career and reputation on these vibrant accounts, editing and publishing them to great acclaim. Thanks to the journals and to the industry Bassie created around them, Hannah would forever be one of the most romantic and famous figures of southwestern history.
Meg, however—Bassie’s granddaughter—finds the family lore oppressive. When an excavation on the old Bass family property beckons a now-elderly and viper-tongued Bassie back to the fabled land of her childhood, Meg only grudgingly consents to accompany her. Determined not to live under the shadow of her ancestry, Meg has never even read the journals. But when an unexpected discovery casts doubt on the history recorded in their pages and harbored in Bassie’s memories, Meg finally succumbs to the allure of her great grandmother’s story and ventures even deeper into Hannah’s life to unlock the mystery at the journal’s core.
Reminiscent of Carol Shields’s The Stone Diaries and the novels of Anita Shreve, The Night Journal is an enthralling tale in which Indian ruins, majestic desert hotels, and the hardship and boldness of frontier life fit seamlessly with a modern-day story of coming to terms with loss, family secrets, and shattering truths that lie shrouded in memory.
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Elizabeth Crook is the author of two previous novels and has been published in anthologies and periodicals such as Texas Monthly and Southwestern Historical Quarterly. She has devoted most of the last decade to researching and writing this book.From Publishers Weekly:
At age 37, Meg Mabry, a single, overworked medical engineer, still hasn't found her place in the world, a predicament due in part to her rejection of her heritage. She's the great-granddaughter of Hannah Bass, a woman whose journals about frontier life in New Mexico (dating 1891 to 1902) have become famous thanks to Meg's grandmother Claudia Bass (Bassie), a historian who built her career promoting the diaries. But Meg resents the domineering Bassie (who raised her) and refuses to read the journals, acoping strategy Crook doesn't make entirely credible. Meg finally delves into Hannah's story when she reluctantly accompanies her grandmother from Austin, Tex., to Pecos, N. Mex. There, a discovery at the burial site of Hannah's dogs calls into question the veracity of Bassie's life work. Meg, meanwhile, falls for archeologist Jim Layton and embarks on a journey into her family's past that will confront her with some difficult truths about herself. Excerpts from the journals punctuate the layered but sometimes unconvincingly plotted narrative, and the historical detail depicts the uneasy late 19th-century melding of Anglo, Native American and Mexican cultures. Crook's third novel (after Promised Lands) blends mystery, chick-lit–style romance and historical fiction for a glimpse of the current and past American West. (Feb. 6)
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