Most of us make the transition from high school to college and career without much fuss. While we may have a passing thought or two of a different life than the one laid out before us, we manage, with a kind of stumbling grace and no small amount of luck, to make the transition into normal adult lives. We join with our friends and the companies we work for in the never ending pursuit of more and more honey and money. However, a select few of us don’t seem to be able to make that leap into career and adulthood. Something stops us cold. Often it seems that the flow of the river that carries along everyone else so easily has turned on us, and we suddenly find ourselves swimming upstream. We see the cookie-cutter mold, and watch in horror as it cuts into our friends, lopping off the pieces of their personality, and everything that made them unique. We realize that the standard mold of adulthood will never fit us.We tell ourselves that if we are to bleed, it will be on our own terms .
Over fifty years ago, when Kerouac’s break-out novel, On The Road first came out, people were shocked by his bold assertions the truth about life was not to be found in working for the man, but rather on the journey; specifically the road trip. This idea found a strong foothold in the growing counter-culture movement that came about in the 1960s. To undertake a life altering journey as a marker into adulthood is not an new idea. Indigenous Nations Peoples have been doing walkabouts, sun dances and vision quests for centuries. It is at the beginning of just such a journey where we find the characters in Daniel Kine’s second novel, Up Nights.
As a road novel, Up Nights does not disappoint, as it has the three basic components of a good road novel; characters, catastrophe and catharsis. Beginning in the dark underbelly of downtown Portland, Oregon, Kine paints a picture that is somber and bleak. Portland’s Burnside Hotel is as close to the lowest rung on the ladder as you can get. Kine’s writing here is barren and stark. Short, staccato sentences lend the reader a heightened awareness of just how desperate the situation is for the two protagonists. From the outside looking in, the beginnings of a life altering road trip always look ugly. To the characters, for the moment anyway, all they see and experience is confusion, and a gnawing sense that something is just not right. Here again, as Kine peels back the societal veneer that hides Portland’s dark underbelly of poverty, drug abuse and prostitution, the author pulls no punches, and hits you hard with writing that is as lean and meaty as well trimmed sirloin steak.
We want to pull away from the cold reality that is Up Nights, but we don’t; we can’t. Kine keeps our revulsions to the black hole that is abject poverty in check by pulling us into the characters inner thoughts and allowing us to feel hope as his characters finally work out the details of the journey they must take together. In this way the characters in Kine’s novel, Up Nights, are not altogether different than coffee that is fire roasted here in Portland: hot, soulful and dark. And, like the coffee, Up Nights is to be savored slowly, for it is here where the rich flavor of this novel is best enjoyed.