The Night Journal
by Elizabeth Crook
Elizabeth Crook has written a magnificent story. She has taken a seemingly meaningless story
of a young life that didn't last long or make that much of an impact and made a fascinating
read about this woman, Hannah, and her daughter, Claudia, and Claudia's daughter, Nina, and
finally Meg, the great-granddaughter of Hannah. The story is set in New Mexico about the
turn of the century when that area was still in the turmoil of new statehood and rebellion
against Mexico and all the different cultures of the region. The prime characters in this
heartbreaking journal of stories are Hannah herself, her life as it appears in the journals,
Elliott her husband, who basically built the west into what it would become through his job
as a land surveyor for the railroads, and the child of Hannah and Elliott. Then there is
Vicente Morales, thrown in to make things interesting.
Meg, Hannah's great-granddaughter, comes into the story as the granddaughter of Claudia, and
is taught everything about stoicism and pain and lost lives by Claudia. She gets involved and
dragged to Pecos, New Mexico because she has always been there for Claudia, who is an old
woman now and still is tied up in knots about her parents' deaths some 80 years before, when
Claudia was but four years old. Hannah writes every day about her thoughts, desires, and hopes
for her child and then she dies. Claudia, (Bassie, as she is known by all that fear, loathe,
and love her) has to go to Pecos to dig up and preserve some old bones. Their property made into
Federal property, the museum is getting a new building, thus requiring the movement of those bones.
Meg goes along to help keep the peace with Bassie and the Museum building committee, and she
soon finds herself learning a bit more about herself from this trip. She has to be the one
to carry all the truths forward and build her own life out of the carnage.
The Night Journal is a very compelling story. It is excellently written and the
storyline is such that a person who has any empathy for the characters will fit right into
the lives as they are being drawn. I found myself fighting with Bassie and living what Hannah
must have lived. Crying over the way Hannah died and the remnants that were left behind. This
story is a life-long quest for identity: familial ties made strong by sheer will, held
tight by determination against all, and dissipated by a photograph. And finally the lies and
deceit that show in the finding of the bones and repression of one's self coming to an end.
I wanted to tell Meg to take it easy on Bassie, and lighten up on herself so she could understand
more of the lives she was tied to but couldn't fathom the reasonings. It is getting to know
who the past is in ways that a person never wanted to have to face, and understanding what made
the people you love do the things and be the way they are. It is a story of growth.
All I can say is, if you want to know how some people became the way they are, you should
read The Night Journal. It was an absolutely wonderful book. It is about taking part
in the family history you were given a gift to unlock. And getting to know those lives
that went before yours ever came into being. A wonderful gift that many of us never open,
mostly because we don't have the knowledge or the ability, and it is easier to forget the
past, as it was the past and not so relevant to the today that we live in. However, Meg and
some others (real people) that are lucky, find out that it is always relevant.
I was totally engrossed and very saddened when the story ended, because it was joy, pain,
love, tears, and heartache as life really is, wrapped up in a book that started as a journal.
Read The Night Journal. It is poignant, seamless, and will make you feel you are a part
of the family. You will know these people.
Fiction - 1880-1902 and present|