reviewed by Nathaniel L. Hansen, editor of Windhover
In the fall of 2013, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Addie Zierman’s first book, When We Were on Fire. (You can read that review here, if you’re interested.) It was a book I read in less than a week–I was captivated not only by her story but also by her depictions of ’90s American Evangelicalism.
Then last summer I taught When We Were on Fire in a Religion & Literature course. My students, even those who didn’t grow up in this type of culture, were captivated by her story. When she graciously agreed to Skype with my class on the last day we were discussing the book, my students were starstruck.
Both times reading that book, I found myself deeply moved. It stirred much in me. So of course when I learned of the upcoming release of her second book, I was excited to read an advanced copy.
Night Driving focuses on a much narrow time frame, more specifically February of 2014. The book recounts a trip she took with her two boys, driving to Florida and back, and as in some travel narratives, the book is organized around chapters dedicated to a specific day or days. The dates and the accompanying photographs are the (pardon the pun) framing devices to each chapter. (In her first book, if you’re not aware, each chapter began with a Christian cliché, followed by a short definition.)
In Night Driving, Zierman showcases a voice that is more mature, more confident. Not that the first book was rough, but Night Driving possesses a polish and heightened level of technique. At the sentence level, the prose is more compelling, more finely crafted. There is even more imagery and detail to savor, especially in her depictions of the family minivan, the chariot that whisks her to the warmth and drags her to the cold.
Noticeably absent in Night Driving are the extended passages of second-person point-of-view. While they worked effectively in When We Were on Fire, their rare occurrence in Night Driving adds power to the recurring “I.” There’s less of an attempt to “put the reader in the scene” via the “you” except for important moments. Such a decision allows for more substantial development and presence of her voice.
The episodic nature of the book, focused as it is on the travel to and from Florida, also triggers reminiscences as Zierman connects and reconnects with individuals along the way, and in this journey there is again a wrestling with questions of faith and Christianity. In depicting these struggles, Zierman (again) provides an honest portrayal of herself and the situations, avoiding the temptation to sugarcoat or oversimplify complexity and paradox. Yet even in her challenges there are unexpected moments of grace, such as at the beach on their final morning in Florida.
With its reminiscences and flashbacks, Night Driving is truly a sequel to When We Were on Fire–there’s a continuity between the two books. I can only wonder (and wait) for what she will write next. Regardless of when it is released, I’m sure I will (again) read it in less than a week.