Not quite a book about books, The Night of Many Endings by Melissa Payne is a book about libraries instead. It’s a feel-good novel that tackles some weighty subjects but ties up the issues nicely, giving the reader a semblance of control where there really isn’t one. Taking place in the snowy Rocky Mountains (Colorado, not my Calgary), the majority of the plot plays over a single night in a spring snowstorm, something I can unfortunately relate to; spring showers bring snowstorms here in the mountains, not flowers! Realistic or not, this book speaks to the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell ourselves about others, and it’s gentle reminder to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Nora is in her early thirties, but has spent the majority of her life dedicated to helping her brother. Tragedy struck when they were young, and he never really recovered from his feelings of guilt, so he struggles with addiction, living on and off the streets, and disappearing for months or even years at a time. Nora spends all her free time looking for him, dropping off food packages for the homeless and volunteering at local shelters, all in an effort to reconnect with her brother and relieve some of the regret she feels over the dissolution of their relationship. When she’s not doing that, she works in a small-town library and loves its community-hub feel. One afternoon, hours before a bit storm is set to hit town, she finds herself trapped at work with a young teenage girl who is trying to hide something in her pocket, a crotchety old lady who keeps accusing that young girl of stealing things, and a kind and handsome security guard who clearly has a crush on Nora. As the snow begins to pile up Nora notices a homeless man in danger outside, so she convinces him to come in from the storm, and their number grows to five. As the storm rages on around them, each person comes to realize something about themselves in the dark and cold library.
As I’ve mentioned already, this isn’t the book you should reach for if you’re looking for gritty realism. There are coincidences, unbelievable development within the character arcs, and simply unrealistic storylines. However, if you don’t mind suspending your disbelief to immerse yourself completely in this story, you will enjoy the book as I did. Nora is a character that we want to support, but her inability to see the destruction that her obsession wreaks on her relatively young life is an honest portrayal of the wide swath of problems that addiction and mental illness causes in our society. In the wake of every homeless person is a circle of friends or family that have been shut out for one reason or another, and its these broken links that remain the focus of this novel. I appreciated Payne’s attempt to demonstrate the often untold side of this societal issue, which is only growing after the pandemic. She may have sidestepped some obvious plot holes in service to a bigger picture and message, but it worked for me nonetheless.
I can’t think of many places I would rather be trapped in during a snowstorm than a library. So many books! I could never imagine being bored surrounded by so much reading material. But in the case of these characters, libraries are a safe haven for other reasons; the shelter, the free internet, and the memories from childhood all take a front seat. With the focus on homelessness in this story, it’s the perfect place to further explore these issues, and within the first few pages we are reminded of this:
“…libraries were one of the last places someone could go where they didn’t have to buy or believe in anything to come in” (p. 8).–The Night of Many Endings by Melissa Payne
I know many of my fellow bloggers will agree with the sanctity and importance of libraries, most obvious by the fact that even though we get free books all the time, we all seem to use our library systems too! They are a precious community resource, and continue to be a beacon of hope for everyone from all different walks of life, which this book is a great reminder of.
There’s plenty of tragedy, disappointment, and unfairness in this book to create some page-turning situations, but it all ends on a hopeful note, so it’s an easy slide into a complicated topic that could be pursued further should one have the interest. Not quite a beach read, but serious enough to get the wheels turning, this book strikes a nice balance for readers of all kinds.