The Night Journal

Written by Elizabeth Crook
Review by Lessa J. Scherrer

“A noctuary,” a character explains to protagonist Meg Mabry toward the end of Elizabeth Crook’s third novel, “…it is a diary, like the others. Except that it reveals the nighttime of her soul.”

“The others” are the turn-of-the-20th-century journals of Harvey Girl Hannah Bass, edited with devotion by her daughter Claudia (“Bassie”) and published posthumously to worldwide acclaim. Meg has devoted her life to avoiding her great-grandmother’s famous journals, even while living in the same house as grandmother Bassie worked on them.

Then Bassie gets a call from the park ranger in charge of the New Mexico monument that was once her home. They want to demolish Dog Hill to make way for an enlarged visitor center. Bassie insists Meg accompany her to New Mexico to reclaim the bones of her mother’s dogs, buried on that hill, before the bulldozers defile them. Dragged to the family homestead against her will, Meg finally breaks down and begins to read Hannah’s journals. But the grave holds more than dog bones, and the subsequent investigation might mean the end of her great-grandmother’s legacy.

Meg’s and Hannah’s parallel journeys form the bulk of Crook’s story. The setting is beautifully and meticulously drawn, vast as the New Mexico sky. Her narrators’ voices are distinct – Meg’s bitter, rebellious rootlessness, Bassie’s militant intellectualism, Hannah’s naiveté and adventurous spirit, her husband Elliot’s longing for a home and family he can hardly force himself to visit – and they all come through the story in subtle and authentic ways. Ultimately, The Night Journal is both a mystery and a story of mothers and daughters, that classic conflict as unique as it is universal. Crook shows us that only by making peace with the past can a woman move confidently into the future.