The Night Country A Novel

Stewart O'Nan




Trade Paperback

240 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book

At midnight on Halloween in a cloistered New England suburb, a car carrying five teenagers leaves a winding road and slams into a tree, killing three of them. One escapes unharmed, another suffers severe brain damage. A year later, summoned by the memories of those closest to them, the three who died come back on a last chilling mission among the living.

A strange, unsettling, widely celebrated ghost story in the tradition of Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson, The Night Country creeps through the leaf-strewn streets and quiet cul-de-sacs of a bedroom community, reaching into the desperately connected yet isolated lives of the three people changed forever by the accident: Tim, who survived intact but lost everything; Brooks, the cop (first to arrive at the scene of the crash) whose guilty secret has destroyed his life; and Kyle's mom, trying to love the new son the doctors returned to her. As the day wanes and darkness falls, one of them puts a terrible plan into effect, and they find themselves caught in a collision of need and desire, watched over by the three knowing ghosts.

At once macabre and moving, The Night Country elevates every small town's bad high school crash into myth, finding the deeper human truth beneath a shared and very American tragedy. As in his highly prized Snow Angels and A Prayer for the Dying, Stewart O'Nan once again gives us an intimate look at people trying to hold on to hope, and at the consequences when they fail.


Praise for The Night Country

"So many writers and filmmakers have used suburbia as a condescending shorthand for banality and stupidity that it's a pleasure to read a novel that understands both the freedom that suburban life, with cars and hangouts providing mobility and refuge, offers to teenagers, and the way they rail against the constrictions of it. O'Nan's descriptions of this Connecticut town at night, after the strip malls and fast-food places have shut down, capture suburbia as the haunting grounds of teenagers and spooks, both of whom do their roaming after dark . . . [This novel is] the work of a sensitive writer with a genuine talent for investigating the plainness of everyday life with straightforward lyricism."—Charles Taylor, The New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating ghost story . . . O'Nan does in 229 pages what it takes most horror novelists volumes to do—make a clear point. With one foot in the genre of horror/supernatural and the other in literary fiction, this book defies classification . . . The writing style is eerily intimate and crackles without distracting the reader . . . O'Nan reveals his talent for understatement and concision of thought here. The final events really start in the beginning of the book, but gather momentum as the story progresses. Light on plot and character, the novelist establishes the mood and atmosphere in unique style. The inexorability of the ending comes effortlessly but grippingly. At no point in this compact book does the author ever let the pace sag by padding the story or through woolly philosophizing. It is very difficult to put down. [Once finished, The Night Country] begs to be read a second time. This book, though set near Halloween, is one to be savored at any time you are up for an absorbing, riveting story. O'Nan delivers a visceral pounding that is hard to forget, and he will be responsible for many restless nights. This is very subtle horror."—Brian Richard Boylan, San Francisco Chronicle

"Scary, sad, funny, and when it comes to young people at the end of their ropes and hopes, dead on the money. [The Night Country] takes you away to a strange and special place while reminding you of the places you've been—especially the spooky Halloween places. A gracefully written, mesmerizing read."—Stephen King

"O'Nan has [an] extraordinary ability to enter the lives of a diverse spectrum of people."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"[O'Nan] upholds his reputation in this rigorously contemporary tale of life and death, in which he renders small-town strip malls as eerie as any haunted castle."—The Seattle Times

"Haunts the reader from page one . . . There's truth to be found on nearly every page of this book."—January Magazine

"Leave it to author Stewart O'Nan to take this idea of a 'holiday book' and turn it into a really gorgeous portrait of small-town life and death."—The Capital Times

"The Night Country burrows into the heart of suburbia with surgical skill . . . Never has elegiac writing been so simultaneously lovely and fun."—

"The perfect ghost story for a contemporary Halloween, The Night Country demonstrates that the horror novel and literature can live quite happily within a single set of covers."—Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story

"Only Stewart O'Nan has the audacity and skill to reveal the secrets of small-town life in such a deft manner. The Night Country is a gothic novel for the twenty-first century."—Chris Offutt, author of The Good Brother

"The po-mo version of Poe at his best. The Night Country is heartstopping at the same time it is heartbreaking."—Michael Martone, author of The Blue Guide to Indiana

"An utterly original novel about the debts of the living to the dead, and of the dead to the living. The Night Country is at heart a brilliant and surprisingly subtle ghost story about the things that matter most: love and loss, memory and forgetting, the doggedness and terrible fragility of the human spirit."—Elizabeth Graver, author of The Honey Thief

"In The Night Country Stewart O'Nan gives us a handle on the adolescent subconscious that may not be pretty but is brutally honest in the way that literature must be if it's going to do any good. Growing up, and life and death, get defined. Lives get saved in the way that literature can do some saving."—Theodore Weesner, author of Harbor Lights

"O'Nan, who's made a career exploring the dark side, welcomes Halloween with a 'ghost story' that soars when the supernatural lets good old-fashioned character take center stage. In a small Connecticut town on October 31, a night that traditionally culminates in soaped windows, tossed eggs, and bellyaches from too much candy, a group of carousing high-schoolers are laid waste in a car accident. Three die and two live: one seemingly intact, the other severely brain damaged. A year later, as the exact moment the careening car got wrapped around a tree approaches again, the ghosts of the dead teenagers return to haunt—and observe—the living. Narrated by the ghost of Marco, the self-proclaimed 'quiet one,' we meet fellow ghost Danielle (girlfriend of Tim, the one who survived intact); ghost Toe, the speeding driver (who secretly loves Danielle, even in death); and those left behind whose lives were horribly altered by the tragedy. Tim, about to graduate high school without his friends, carries the burden of still existing; Brooks, the cop with a secret who was first at the scene is 'fifty-three, in debt, alone, a mess'; Kyle, a former pot-smoking rebel who now can barely tie his shoelaces; and Kyle's mother, Nancy, who tends her diminished son and mourns her empty marriage. The mildly malevolent ghosts swirl around and play tricks, but the real trauma comes when we're privy to the thoughts of the living and their attempts to cope with memory and guilt: Nancy making a memorial wreath to hang on the tree; Brooks doggedly tailing Tim in a futile attempt to keep him safe; and Tim, rethinking endlessly his horrible plan to end the pain as the witching hour approaches. A skilled writer, a complex novel."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Stewart O'Nan

  • Stewart O'Nan's other novels include Snow Angels, The Speed Queen, and A Prayer for the Dying. Granta has named him one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists. He lives in Connecticut.

  • Stewart O'Nan Copyright Amy Etra
    Stewart O'Nan




Download PDF



Go to website


Sign Up


Reading Group Guide