David Adams Richards' award-winning novel Nights Below Station Street employs a highly unusual narrative style that strikes the reader as being more indicative of film than traditional fiction. In other words, Richards' story reads more like a screenplay for a movie rather than a traditional novel. The reader takes the role of the camera, seeing the action from a detached point of view. This detached viewpoint emphasizes the overall tone of the work, which is one of alienation, resignation and struggle.
The novel begins with a description of the Walsh family on Christmas in 1972. Richards chooses a few details to "set the stage," stating the time in which the action takes place, that there is a "spruce tree" against the "pine-board wall" of the living room, and that the house was "below Station Street" (Richards 7). Rather than showing the reader the Walsh family interacting on Christmas day, Richards tells the reader about Adele's assertion that she never gets anything for Christmas and how she argued with her father, rather than showing and describing the argument in detail.
It is as if the writer is offering a description of what he "sees" as the elements that should be contained within the visual action of a film (Coyle 1165).
As this suggests, the narrative does not take the viewpoint of any one particular character. Rather, like a camera, the viewpoint is omniscient, first telling the reader the reactions of one character, and then another. For example, the writer tells the reader about Rita's fear that she will do or say something that willcause Joe, her husband, to start drinking again, but then, in the next paragraph, there is a description of Adele's boredom and depression (Coyle 1166).
Adele is the oldest of the Walsh daughters and the beginning of the novel describes her extreme alienation. One can surmise that Adele is reacting to her father's alcoholism, but, Richards does not state this overtly. Rather, he allows his detached, highly visual perspective to allow his readers to act as a "fly on the wall" and reach their own conclusions regarding the family dynamics. This form of narration immediately establishes an interesting relationship between the reader and the Walsh family. Rather than being sympathetic to the wronged teenager, who has undoubtedly suffered because of her father's drinking, the sympathies of the reader are elicited for Joe, who patiently puts up with his daughter's abuse, as he struggles to maintain his sobriety.
Another feature of the narrative that is suggestive of film is the manner in which Richards switches from scene to scene. Rather than transition between scenes with words, he cuts off one passage, as if it were a scene from a film with a character making a dramatic exit, employs an asterisk and commences a new scene. Instead of an asterisk, he might just as well have indicated "fade to black."For example, in response to one of her father's nods of acknowledgement, Richards records that Adele made a rude remark, "smirked. And then she turned on the balls of her feet and marched off triumphantly upstairs" (Richards 8). There is an asterisk and the next paragraph begins with a description of Ralphie, Adele's boyfriend, coming by the Walsh home to bring her Christmas presents. As this indicates, there is, indeed, an "exit" and then a new scene.
It is through Ralphie's perspective that the reader begins to learn the story behind the family's problems, as Richards writes that "Ralphie had been hearing of Joe Walsh since he had been a little boy. He had heard that he hurt his back, and though he could still be called strong, and could still be capable oftremendous strength, he was acting at about half of what he had once been" (Richards 9). In this manner, Richard unfolds the moving saga of this family, as it moves from conflict toward resolution, from alienation towards love.
The writing style, as it incorporates narration devices typical of film, has the impact of a visual medium while simultaneously conveying the extreme dysfunction and estrangement that characterizes the Walsh family. Therefore, it can be seen how the writer's overall tone is enhanced by this "cinematic" narrative style (Coyle 1172).
Works CitedCoyle, Martin. Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism. London: Routledge, 1990.
Richards, D.A. Nights Below Station Street. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1997.