A magical tour of night's great landmarks.
It follows every day, but night is still as exotic for most people as the farthest land: now terrifying, now exhilarating, a heightened state. This is what Canadian poet and polymath Dewdney (Last Flesh, not reviewed, etc.) captures so well as he starts at sunset and ends at dawn, drawing a representative and universal night with an hour to each chapter. First come the sunsets, the green flash, the three stages of twilight: civil (time to turn on headlights), nautical (when the first stars appear for navigation), and astronomical (when even the faintest stars come out). With each chapter, as Dewdney so easily slips through the night, he will ask unexpected questions and answer them, too: How big is the night? How wide? What about those cosmologies? Who were Nut and Orion and Cassiopeia? Each passing hour calls to mind a subject he will pursue with digressions. Who make up the night shift of animal workers? How do they see, what is the new role of hearing as darkness falls, and what is bioluminescence anyway? What are some fun night games, and how did the institution of bedtime stories evolve? Later come the night-shift workers, the cops and the ladies of the night, and their constant battle with circadian rhythms. Dewdney is good at explaining the more arcane aspects of sleep and hormonal activity, but then he makes riveting every element he has incorporated. The gothic literary night, engaging and recreational with its blend of fantastic and abstract terror, drifts into the bosom of the night’s night: 3 a.m., when the fossil light of the stars overwhelms the sky and the stargazers, the hour dreaded by insomniacs when we wake to be tormented by our troubles.
Eulogistic and very personal treatment of a world to itself, full of incident and lovely as a Whistler nocturne.