by Ryan Stromquist
All the Night Gone
Stonehouse Publishing (2020)
All the Night Gone, the debut novel of Sabrina Uswak, is another addition to the pantheon of road trip novels. The story begins with a disappearance:
Maybe that’s why Dill left. Being in a place too small with a sky so big. Hills that gleam in the hot dry summer wind, endless to the horizon. An illusion of opportunity, Charlie said once. (7)
Much of the intrigue in the story comes from the slow unraveling of the mystery that is not only the disappearance of Dill, but also the trauma of the two main characters: Charlie and Ben. Charlie and Ben represent foils in the novel, which helps to propel the tension and plot forward, but also establishes how trauma affects both the repressed and the exposed psyches. While the road tripe genre is adept at showcasing personal journey, I was pleasantly surprised by Uswak’s ability to display her character’s internal trauma as a universal truth.
All the Night Gone is filled with an existential dread that hangs over the characters at every turn, and the intimacy and vulnerability Uswak builds between the main characters creates a unique tension with even the simplest descriptions of the landscape:
Silence settles comfortably. I open my window a bit and hear air rushing over the glass, smelling cool earth. The clouds are drifting leviathans. I study their contours, memorize their shape. (76-77)
The sparsity of the novel and impressive efficiency of language creates a juxtaposition against the complexity of emotions with the characters.
While cliché amongst reviews, it is not an exaggeration to say I loved this novel. The ending resonates with me even now, and I appreciated Uswak’s existential take on the weary traveller suggesting a collective unconscious grief that binds one’s trauma together with another. Without giving away the ending, the final cathartic moment left me wanting more, but knowing the journey could not have ended any other way.
Ryan Stromquist is a writer, editor, and frequent FreeFall Magazine contributor based out of Calgary, Alberta.