Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2018 November 02 • Friday

Just in time for this Halloween I managed to read a book that I bought last Halloween: the two William Sloane novels To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water presented in one volume as The Rim of Morning by New York Review Books.

Both of these novels were written in the 1930s and provide a certain kind of reading satisfaction that seems to come almost exclusively from novels of that time. The writing and pacing are perfectly modulated, the tone is always even, everything is constructed with perfect deliberation and solidity; the feeling is like being drawn forward inexorably and smoothly on a perfectly natural current. Nothing is out of place or sloppy; nothing seems contrived or a product of authorial laziness or desperation.

Also typical is the intensely atmospheric nature of both books. Sloane appears to do this effortlessly, which makes it all the more effective, but the reader can also be aware of how well crafted and exciting it is, while reading, which is a perfect combination.

To Walk the Night has as its framing device storytelling itself. "Bark" Jones has to explain to his best friend's father all the events leading to and surrounding the suicide of the recently deceased young man.

The two sit outside the father's house on Long Island and talk all through the night and Sloane is excellent at balancing the story with its telling, as well as describing the passage of time through delicate observations of the light on the bay.

The story centers around a strange woman and an even stranger death, practically a locked room murder mystery, though technically not. Ingeniously, Sloane gives the reader vital information about how this first death (not the suicide) occurs, but it's cleverly disguised and presented so up front and center stage that it's hiding in plain sight and I expect most people will simply note it with curiosity and forget about it, as I did, even though Sloane makes a point of bringing it to our attention.

The story builds and moves forward inexorably and has a wonderful climax. While To Walk the Night has less action and more ambiguity, it was my favorite of the two.

Its first line is "The form in which this narrative is cast is necessarily an arbitrary one". The amount of pleasure that sentence gives you is probably a good indication of how much you'll like the rest of it.

The Edge of Running Water is easier to describe: mad scientist tries to build a machine to communicate with the dead, more or less.

Also in there are conflicts between locals and outsiders, science and the supernatural, virtue and vice, grief and love...

It's both more character-driven and more concerned with action and proceeds in a fairly straight line from its beginning to its end. Sloane again likes to end on a note of ambiguity, leaving the fate of two of the characters unknown and almost certainly unknowable.

While perhaps more ordinary than To Walk the Night, The Edge of Running Water is still very engrossing and was a joy to read.

Its first line is "The man for whom this story is told may or may not be alive".