take 2: goodreads ate the review i wrote last night (i hope it was tasty) so i'm going to give it another whirl... thank you, karen
, uber-reviewer extraordinaire for sharing your enthusiasm for this unsung author, who deserves more readers. she seems in some ways like jim thompson's other half.
night shift shows what an ace maritta wolff was at characterization. the people fashioned by her are sharply defined, and emotionally accessible. even if they stay for only a page or two, then sweep on and out of the novel, they are finely rendered. those that stick around for the long haul are even more captivating.
sally otis, is the sun in the solar system of night shift. she's a waitress struggling to support her three children while also taking care of one of her sisters, her brother, another roomer in the house where she has her flat and boards with her, the neighbours across the hall. add the mobster who harrasses her, and the absent husband we eventually meet, and even the absent sister, who swirls again into her life, and you see all orbit around her, all gravitate to her in this book. normally, i wouldn't give two figs about family drama in novel form, but sally is so sweet that i think anyone would want to stick around to see if she makes it through okay because to read sally is to know her, and to believe in her. this is somebody who lives only on the page, and yet i'd trust her more than some of the people who live and breathe around me. sally doesn't forget you even if you are far away; her delight in bringing joy to the people in her life makes you feel proud to know her.
and if sally is the sun, then i guess her sister petey is the moon. petey comes to dominate the second half of the novel. a night club singer, wise in the ways of the world, possessed of an indomitable spirit, and itchy feet, she gets involved with the mobster to distract him from his pursuit of sally and winds up falling in love for the first time with another man of questionable ethics and makes some questionable decisions of her own as a result of the intensity of her feelings.
the novel is very much a slice of life. it tells their stories from point A to point B -- there is some closure for sally and petey and some of the other characters yes, but when we leave them we are keenly aware that they will continue after we are gone. some minor characters, like harold, sally's eldest son, seem to have a whole story that is only alluded to throughout the book, while we follow the two fascinating sisters, and i do sort of wonder why those parts were left in. while i was interested in stories like harold's, it did seem the author's own interest wasn't sustained, the off-shoots didn't seem integral to the novel. had i been her editor, i'm not sure i would've left them in at all. i can't really blame the author for this, and when i think she was only twenty-four when this was published, i'm astounded by the insight she had into humanity, to draw these people so well, so young. i suspect, she, like sally, was possessed of an old soul.