Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nothing But the Night by John Wiliams

Arthur Maxley wakes in his room, which he thinks is like his soul--dirty and disarranged. Shrugging off that thought, he slaps cold water on his face and determines to go for a walk. But he never gets to his destination, sidetracked to a cafe. His egg makes him think of an evil eye and depressed by the little cafe and ends up back home, the windows in his building seeming to leer at him. Maxley's nerves are disturbed by memories. Everything he encounters is magnified in grotesque ways, like circus sideshow mirrors, reflecting his inner world.

Every word in John Williams' novel Nothing Like the Night reveals Maxley's claustrophobic and overwrought psyche, the story culminating in the revelation of the horror Maxley witnessed and his irrational acting out of his trauma.

Is this book by the same man who created William Stoner in Stoner, the novel so constrained and elegant, austere and yet moving? Both novels are dark, but Stoner's resolution is comforting in his final acceptance of his life. Night leaves the protagonist still lost in the dark. Violence becomes his speech and there is no health in him.

Nothing But the Night was Williams' first novel, written during the war when he flew supplies "over the hump" and saw his fellow soldiers die. Only a mentor with a small press believed in him enough to publish this novel. Williams learned from his mistakes and went on to write "the perfect novel" Stoner and the National Book Award winner Augustus.

It was fascinating to read this early novel, at once a failure and yet showing Williams ability with words and insight into human nature. The story is disturbing and memorable, a psychological noir more suited for 2018 than 1948.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

from the publisher:

Stoner author John Williams’s first novel is a searing look at a man’s relationship with his absent father, and how early trauma manifests throughout one’s life

John Williams’s first novel is a brooding psychological noir. Arthur Maxley is a young man at the end of his emotional rope. Having dropped out of college, he’s holed up in a big-city hotel, living off an allowance from his family, feeling nothing but alone and doing nothing but drinking to forget it. What’s brought him to this point? Something is troubling him, something is haunting him, something he cannot bring himself either to face or to turn away from. And now his father has come to town, a hail-fellow-well-met kind of guy. They’ve been estranged for years, and yet Arthur wants to meet—and so he does, reeling away from the encounter for a night of drinking and dancing and a final reckoning with the traumatizing past that readers will not soon forget.

Nothing But the Night includes an interview with Nancy Williams, John Williams’s widow.

Publication History: 1st pub 1948; OP since 1990

Nothing But the Night
by John Williams
NYRB Classics
On Sale Date: February 12, 2019
9781681373072, 1681373076
$14.95 USD, $19.95 CAD

Learn more about John Williams--

My review of The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel by Charles J. Shields can be found at

Read my review of Stoner by John Williams at

Read my review of Augustus by John Williams at

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