Late Nights on Air follows a group of Yellowknife radio station employees over the course of a year – new arrivals, old hands, fallen stars. Set in the 70s, it takes place against the backdrop of the burgeoning oil boom that raises the possibility of a pipeline that would seemingly cut the north in two. The characters are given equal treatment over the first part of the novel, as Hay fully explores each characters motivations, history, impulses and hopes for the future. By the halfway point, we know the characters, we know why they do what they do and what we can expect them to do next. The climax of the story, as a result, is not so much a plot point but character development.
Hay is a funny, fluid, emotional writer that adds wit and spontaneity to each character and situation. In fact, I found that she was nearly opposite Joseph Boyden in style – reading Late Nights immediately after Through Black Spruce, this was quite a shock at times. However, Hay’s relaxed, detailed style made for a delightful read, providing an opportunity for the reader to engage with the social and political climate of Yellowknife in the 70s without losing contact with the characters directly affected by such possible changes. Hay has a reporter’s voice in this regard, giving the facts of the people and circumstances involved in living in Yellowknife at this time, allowing the reader to draw conclusions and connections about the characters and the events that follow.
I enjoyed this book. It was a great read, quick and funny with a poignant climax and satisfying conclusion. It’s not a political book per se, but the political events shape the characters’ decisions enough that a statement about the political events of the time comes through. I am looking forward to reading her other books, A Student of Weather, Garbo Laughs, and another one, I think. I can’t remember. Four overturned canoes out of five.
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