Book Review of “Goodnight, Beautiful Women” by Anna Noyes.
This is a collection of short stories all surrounding women living near the coast of New England. Debut author Noyes brings us such varied stories as a woman watching her husband go crazy before disappearing, the life-long guilt of one girl’s childhood lie, disastrous affairs and a troubled mother trying to escape her loving boyfriend with her daughter.
On the publisher‘s website, it says, “With novelistic breadth and a quicksilver emotional intelligence, Noyes explores the ruptures and vicissitudes of growing up and growing old, and shines a light on our most uncomfortable impulses while masterfully charting the depths of our murky desires.” I can certainly agree with much of this statement, particularly about Noyes showing us uncomfortable impulses and murky desires. The publisher also called it, “Dark and brilliant, rhythmic and lucid…” and I must agree with the dark, rhythmic and lucid parts, and while I found this book to be very interesting, I’m not sure if I would call it brilliant.
This isn’t to say that the book isn’t good, because there are many excellent things about this book. To begin with, I can easily see what the publishers saw in Noyes. She knows how to develop her characters and make them come alive. She’s adept at putting them into unusual situations and building a story line, which is cohesive, without being predictable. All this Noyes does with a highly unusual style, which isn’t easy to describe. At turns, Noyes’ prose is lyrical, prosaic, minimal, complex, light and dark. This is quite a testament to her versatility, which is a welcome addition when presenting a collection of short stories. If in employing this, Noyes’ intention was to wrap each tale in slightly different feelings, she succeeded, to at least some extent.
My problem with this book, however, is where Noyes didn’t succeed. Despite the obvious writing talent Noyes displays here, I felt that the overall atmosphere was altogether too heavy. I think the tone Noyes was trying to achieve here was distinctively gray, but instead it came out feeling morose, more often than not. Perhaps the underlying theme that ran through all of the stories let Noyes down, the combination of love and loss. This theme isn’t anything new, unless you can put a unique spin on it. Noyes attempts to do this by placing all of the stories in the area of New England, but that just doesn’t seem to be enough to bring these stories out of the ordinary. However, Noyes did have one instance where she proves she has the ability to capture something unusual. This is in the opening story, “Hibernation,” where a woman living by a quarry, recalls witnessing her husband throwing their things into the murky water of the pits before he disappeared. Had Noyes been able to equal the quality of that story in the rest of her pieces, this could have gotten a full five stars from me.
In addition, I found that some of the stories confused me by using disjointed, although lyrical, passages that didn’t always connect to the action or the characters. While I enjoyed the use and play of language, as well as the visuals they afforded, I wasn’t sure if these were altogether necessary. (These reminded me of the adage to writers to “kill your babies,” meaning, even if you’ve written something you really love, unless it works with the story, you’ll have to cut it.)
You can see from this that I’m somewhat of two minds with this book. On the one hand, I have no doubt that Noyes has a true writing talent, and is a name we should be watching out for in the future. On the other hand, I’m not sure if this was the best way for her to display it. I don’t know if she should lighten up a bit, or look for something that will take her lovely prose to the next level. For this, I think I’ll give this book a rating of three out of five stars, but still recommend it since I’m certain many readers will appreciate her fine use of language.
“Goodnight, Beautiful Women” by Anna Noyes, published by Grove Press, released June 2016 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), from the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy) as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.