Nothing but the Night

In Nothing but the Night, John Williams's first novel, now reprinted by NYRB, a young man grapples with his repressed childhood trauma. Arthur Maxley exists in the realm of waking nightmare, imagining scenes of violence overlaid upon the raucous parties he attends in New York. The lonesome routine of his days is interrupted when his estranged father visits in an attempt to reconnect. Reeling from the encounter, Arthur descends even further into the dark and increasingly carnivalesque world of late-night Manhattan, seeking solace, with explosive results, in the bodies of others. There, he rediscovers not only the original trauma that led him to this moment, but his own ability to perpetuate it.

Written while Williams was serving in World War II and published in the war's immediate aftermath, Nothing but the Night is haunted by internalized violence. With winding, disjointed syntax and horror aesthetics, William's words craft the world Arthur sees as not "a social endeavor that had to do with flesh and blood" but "a dumb show, a horrible grotesque and childlike thing of terror with all the idiot simplicity of a marionette ballet." Each sentence trembles with rage and physicality that, as the book burrows deeper and deeper into Arthur's consciousness, slowly embeds itself within the reader's own perception. A more interior book than Williams's later Butchers Crossing or Stoner, Nothing but the Night offers a stripped-down look at a generation of hollowed-out Holden Caulfields who exist not in the world of intellectual promise or adventure, but in the blaring, unspeakable reality of their own minds. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

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