I just finished reading Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul. If you missed the interview with his publishers, you can check that out first. If you just want the highlights of the book to get you excited, I did a twitter read-along at #ReillyDarkNight (Feel free to add your thoughts using that hashtag!) and storified it here.
I read my first Gary Reilly book this spring, The Asphalt Warrior and LURVED it.
When I got a chance to pick up his latest Asphalt Warrior book to review it, I jumped at the chance. The fact that it came with an opportunity to talk to the men Gary put in charge of his literary estate when he passed made it all the more awesome.
The first time I read Gary Reilly, it was his characters that really carried me through. While the plot and structure were all present and accounted for, what made me love Reilly’s work was the depth and love that he poured into Murph.
This book had those same elements as you’ll see if you pop over to my storified read-along. You really can’t help but fall in love with Murph and root for him to get his wish and be able to just spend a whole day doing nothing.
As I read this book I couldn’t help but think of the movie Hudson Hawk with Bruce Willis, where all the guy wants is an espresso and it takes him the whole damn movie to get it. The espresso is his MacGuffin. With the Asphalt Warrior series, a day to do nothing – not even brush his teeth – is Murph’s MacGuffin. That is the holy quest that he is on, and if he could just remember the first rule of cab driving – NEVER get involved with your fares – he might even be able to achieve it.
Alas, Murph just can’t help himself. Whether it’s the old lady who tried to pay in pennies, which Murph is convinced aren’t even legal tender, or the bank robber who uses Murph and his cab as a get-away vehicle before having a heart attack and winding up in the hospital… Murph just can’t catch a break.
“I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get things back to normal. I don’t know why. My normality is neither healthy nor realistic, but whatever it is, I’m good at it.”
The pacing of Dark Night of the Soul felt a lot faster than Reilly’s first book. There was a moment where I actually gasped and felt my pulse start to race. It led to a very late night of reading.
With the increased stakes, the plot of this book was more than enough to carry it along – but in the end what put it over into the “Must read, MUST share” category was, as always, the characters, specifically Murph who I really wish I could meet in real life. (Not that we’d be friends or anything, Murph doesn’ t have friends.)
And again, for the aspiring writers, struggling authors and wishful artists out there – Murph is a wonderful guide. I could do a whole review just talking about the writing tips I’ve gotten from these books. In fact… I know a guy who should maybe offer “Murph’s Guide to Writing” at the next RMFW conference. (Mark Stevens, I am typing at you.)
Dark Night of the Soul starts off with a bang as Murph oversleeps and does something he has never done before, “which was to make a telephone call at dawn.” As he rushes around trying to get to Rocky Cab to pick up his taxi and start his day we are reminded that Murph never rushes, never panics.
“I did do that a lot in the army where they had things like sergeants and bugles, but that was a quarter-century ago, which is a long time not to panic.”
This is a great piece of foreshadowing, as we learn that perhaps it is time for Murph to brush up on his Panicking skills.
“As a matter of social propriety, I try to avoid adrenaline before noon.”
He even goes so far as to name the part of our brain that screams at us to “Get moving!” when we know calm is really best. That’s the Gym Coach talking.
Once his day gets going, it only gets worse. Murph has to interact with his nemesis, Rollo, the man who hands out the keys and trip sheets at Rocky Cab, and then there’s a line at the 7-11, the fare who pays with a $20, using up all of Murph’s change and forcing him into a corner where, “I was once again unable to proceed with my life until I did something with money.” Which feels like the quintessential American struggle, and which ultimately provides the true catalyst for this book.
Murph expounds on this struggle further, “As bad as I am at math, I am capable of mentally dividing numeric concepts into neat categories that make me feel like I’m not broke.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can relate to this a little too well.
“Aren’t you always broke when you pick up your first fare of the day?”
“No. Sometimes I just don’t have any money.”
“Isn’t that the same thing as being broke?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Broke is a state of being that occurs only after six o’clock at night. It has to do with the probability factor of picking up a final fare. If I don’t have any money after six o’clock at night, I’m broke.”
Murph’s day continues to go south, with a fare paying via check, an old lady trying to pay via pennies and or course, a bank robber using Murph as a get away driver. All of Murph’s problems are tied to money, his need for it, his desire not to need it, and everyone else’s inability to respect the very fine line he walks trying to have only exactly enough to survive and no more.
All of these problems compound and Murph decides it is time to do something drastic. “This was the first time I had ever tried to get personally involved in my own life.” Murph decides that floating along with things is no longer working out for him, and it’s time for him to take charge. Of course, for a guy who can screw up just about anything, that might not be the best idea.
“I wondered if there was a third ‘something’ that lay between reality and fantasy that I could screw up. I mean, I knew that I could screw it up, but did it exist?”
Dark Night of the Soul gets its name from the moral crisis that Murph has in this book. As he gets ever more embroiled in the lives of his fares, and the cops come breathing down his neck looking for his connection to the bank robber, Murph realizes that, “Somewhere inside my body was a corrupt bone… It was there, and it made me feel funny.”
Murph deduces that simply having bad thoughts, whether you follow through on them or not, is enough to make you a bad person. He reasons that the only thing keeping you from following through is fear of getting caught, not outright rejection of being evil. It’s an interesting take on morality, especially coming from a guy who really strives to do good, at least when he’s not striving to do nothing at all.
Murph must also confront the profound realization that inaction too has consequences, that in striving to do nothing, he is making a choice and in the process he is perhaps doing far more harm than good.
“I suddenly realized that by simply… doing absolutely nothing at all, I could destroy the lives of five good men,” leading him to the startling conclusion that, “Maybe actions are the only things that really count in this world.”
This section reminded me of The Boondock Saints one of my all-time favorite movies, and their assertion that what we must fear most is good men who do nothing.
Murph is a good man, to his core. But can he rise above decades of ennui and entropy to take action when it matters most?
I’d give you the odds, but as Murph reminds us, “Of course odds have nothing to do with reality, which is why so many people go home sad from the dog track.”
If you want to know how Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul turns out, I encourage you to pick up a copy – this is one dog track you won’t go home sad from!