Title: That Night
Author: Chevy Stevens
No. of Pages: 384
Origins: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: 17 June 2014
Bottom Line: Spellbinding and quite possibly her best book yet
“As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.
Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.
Now thirty-four, Toni, is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.
But in That Night by Chevy Stevens, the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.”
Thoughts: That Night is one of the rare exceptions lately in which the unreliable narrator is truly an effective story-telling medium. All signs point to Toni and Ryan’s guilt, except for Toni’s memories. That Toni’s memories are unreliable is a distinct issue given her anger at her experiences, her tumultuous relationship with her parents, and her love-hate relationship with her sister. Much is also made of her drug and alcohol use, and it is up to the reader to determine whether her behavior is extreme or the act of a normal, frustrated teenager searching for her path in life. In that same vein, almost all of Toni’s actions and reactions are fraught with the ambivalence that makes it difficult to believe her story, yet her emotional upheaval raises many a doubt. Readers must weigh emotion versus fact to decide for themselves whether Toni is a trustworthy narrator.
The story explores the long-term ramifications of a prison term, poignantly seen through Toni’s struggles to adapt to her life after her incarceration. It also explores the psychological trauma that occurs with victims of bullying. It is difficult to discern which experience is the most traumatic and life-altering. To further complicate matters, readers never really know what exactly happened that long-ago fateful night. Toni’s long-simmering anger clouds a reader’s understanding of the events and adds emotional complexity to an already multifaceted situation. The truth, when finally revealed, is every bit as sordid as one would expect, and leaves readers stunned at how the actions of one person can create an exponential number of victims.
Ms. Stevens never writes easy books, and her latest is definitely not an easy read. There is an emotional turmoil roiling through the entire narrative which simultaneously attracts and repels readers. This is particularly true in the beginning as Toni recalls her behavior and attitudes towards her parents. Recognizable as pretty standard teen behavior, readers will find themselves squirming at the lack of respect, the utter disdain, and complete flouting of the rules that Toni adopts as her battle armor in the ongoing teenager versus parent drama. The emotional roller coaster continues through the trial and beyond, and readers must traverse through Toni’s shock, despair, anger, resignation, fear, and loss. There are few, if any, lighthearted moments, and the ones that do exist contain a lingering sense of grief that increases the weightiness of the situation.
Given the subject matter and the full range of emotions on display, That Night is intense. It sets readers on edge and never really releases a reader from its spell. Its discussion of the legal and prison system will haunt readers long after finishing the book. Similarly, all of Toni’s experiences are equally disturbing and their effect upon the reader is long-lasting. Powerful and passionate, That Night is emotionally horrifying, psychologically traumatic, and worth every word.