The Changs live an inconspicuous life in Plano, Texas, Patty, the mother has a demanding job in the tech industry, Liang, the father looks more after the house and their two kids Jack and Annabel. Despite their Chinese background, they assimilate and fit in quite well until misunderstanding sets in motion a chain of events which throws the already fragile family equilibrium totally out of balance.
Simon Han’s novel “Nights When Nothing Happened” tackle different tricky topics such as moving to another country and trying to fit in, finding your identity when you grow up between different cultures, trying to make a living and having a family at the same time and, most of all, dealing with the fragile psyche of a child. Each chapter provides the reader with the perspective of another family member thus underlining that even though you might belong to the same family, there are always things left unsaid because they are unutterable or because you cannot find the words to express yourself, in the case of the children in the novel: because they are too afraid of saying or doing something wrong.
It wasn’t easy for me to sympathise with the characters, they were too far away from my life and unfortunately the novel, though wonderfully narrated, couldn’t bring them closer. Understanding their individual struggles and fears though was easy due to the insight in the characters’ thoughts. Many noteworthy aspects and without any doubt interesting characters, yet, somehow the novel did not really move me.
When one evening Gem Golding stops at a drugstore to get some pain killers, a man approaches her and tries to hijack her car. He obviously has a knife, but she never wanted to become a victim. So she has to make a choice quickly: either give in, surrender to him and the situation or fight for her life. Depending on how she decides, her life will take different turns. Gem will either be the fighter or the victim.
Max Manning’s thriller is an interesting play with how the options presented to us and the decisions made have a huge impact on what follows. He continues the story by narrating the two outcomes in a paralleled line, showing the result of each of Gem’s choice and the consequences that necessarily come with it: the psychological effect the decision has on her but also on her husband Drew, her relationship with him, but also her career in PR which forces her to work late hours.
Both sides are convincing in their own way and both stories have their appeal. Yet, admittedly, I got frequently confused which annoyed me a lot. It took some time until I had figured out the concept but until that I was wondering if I could really have misunderstood so much. A different font or the like might have helped a lot. There were some interesting twists and turns, also the characters varied a lot depending on the story line which made it quite interesting and kept suspense high.
An utterly singular concept of dealing with a story, however, it did not fully work out for me which is a pity since I really appreciated the story itself and the writer’s style of writing.
Randolph Tiefenthaler is a successful Berlin based architect. With his wife Rebecca and their two kids, they just moved into the stylish old houses of the German capital where they have find the seemingly perfect home. Yet, it doesn’t take too long until the neighbour from the basement, Dieter Tiberius, becomes more and more awkward and strange. He writes love letters to Rebecca, which is just annoying, but then he accuses her of child abuse and repeatedly calls the police to check on them. Randolph gets a lawyer, he contacts the youth welfare service, but there is nothing he can do to protect his family from the crazy man in the basement. The fear that he might attack his wife or hurt the children grows and with it the marriage become increasingly fragile. There nerves are on the edge until the day they cannot support it anymore and they need to help themselves to protect the family.
Dirk Kurbjuweit plays with the family idyll which is threatened in the core: the home. The loving father who has built the perfect life for himself and his wife, becomes suddenly incapable of action. He cannot protect his beloved, there is a danger close at hand that he cannot control and sees himself exposed defencelessly. The pressure which is on Randolph and Rebecca is palpable and you as a reader also feel the growing impression of being helpless, powerless and most of all vulnerable.
Even though from the start it is clear what the outcome of all will be, the thriller is full of suspense and the development of the plot gives you the creeps. Kurbjuweit has a very lively style of writing and making Randolph the narrator underlines the feeling of being a part of the story and makes it easy to sympathise with him and to commiserate with him.