A book in review.
These Were the Nights, a new and captivating novel by Cory Copeland, opens near the end of young Gideon Monroe’s story. We see him take a hit of meth while awkwardly remembering his grandmother. We watch the drug take effect, rushing through his system. We leave the abandoned house with Gideon and his friends and disappear into the night. Then we travel backwards to fourteen months prior and are introduced to a Gideon who works at a law firm, is polite to women, and goes to church. Confused, we wonder how such a handsome, upstanding young man could fall so far. How can one chance encounter with one woman lead to all of that? Full of curiosity, we keep turning pages. Because we have to know, we need to know.
I like a book that has romance. I like a book with a happily ever after on the final page. I like a book that I can guess the ending of before I even open it. (Surprises aren’t really my thing.) So from the start, These Were the Nights wasn’t a book that I should have liked. It didn’t fit into a box and it wasn’t predictable. During most of the story, I was a bit stressed out. With each passing night, Gideon falls a bit farther, uncovering temptations and secrets that eat away at him. And I began to worry: for Gideon, his parents, the various friends coming in and out of his life. I worried for Gideon’s peace of mind. I worried for his despair. Copeland’s detailed writing and concise dialogue drew me in and made it feel so very real. With each word and turned page, I became invested in the lives of his characters.
It wasn’t simply that I could relate to the characters; I know them. I know the over-protective mother who wants what’s best for her child. I know the dad who works a job he might not love to take care of the family he does love. I know the man who becomes lost in his mistakes and guilt, and can’t see his way out. I know the girl who needs attention from wherever she can find it, even if it means losing a bit of herself. I know the pastor with secrets, the friends who become family, the children we never know, the relationships that become destructive. I know everyone in this book. And because of that, I care deeply.
Through Gideon’s story, Copeland is able to illustrate the duality that conflicts many Christians today. There is a push and pull between the religion we are taught and the world we long to participate in. Sometimes we are driven from the comfort of our religion, and other times the temptation of what’s outside just becomes too strong to resist. Or, as is the case with Gideon Monroe, we encounter both. That struggle within us is a very human condition, and Copeland has managed to take such a universal experience and make it terribly personal. We see how anyone of us could become in engulfed in these feelings. Even Christians with the best of intentions can succumb.
The real question that Copeland leads us towards is how do we deal with it? How do we work through the desires we feel and the mistakes we make? How do we handle the guilt that comes with a wrong choice? How can we come to God with our struggles?
These Were the Nights isn’t a book that shows how religion can give you the happy ending you want. It isn’t going to give you answers; rather, it leaves you with questions. It touches on very sensitive topics, such as drinking, drugs, sex, infidelity, abortion, and death, without cheapening the story. It is honest and heartfelt. I believe every word I read in it, because I’ve been there. We’ve all stood at that crossroads. And as we watch Gideon take his chosen path, we believe his story. We believe that his drunken mistakes and accidental encounters led him into darkness. We understand it even as we weep for him. And because of that, it is exactly the kind of book I like.