In the fast-paced world of quick-to-access and easy-to-digest entertainment, it’s not often that a work of literature is able to move its readers to slow down and savor its significance, coaxing them into prying open its complexities one by one with a sense of wonder and anticipation. Equal parts intricate and graceful, Laura McBride’s second novel “ ‘Round Midnight” accomplishes just this, as she effortlessly pulls readers along on a whirlwind journey — exploring love, loss and the ties that bind us all.
Beginning with the postwar growth of Las Vegas in the 1950s and spanning six decades until the not-so-distant past, “ ‘Round Midnight” tells the stories of four different women, chronicling the struggles that intertwine their fates not only with one another, but also with the Midnight Room of the El Capitan casino and club.
Daring June moves a world away from New Jersey to settle in Vegas, transforming the El Capitan into an institution of local importance, as she hires a Black singer to revive the club despite mid-century racial tensions. Later, Honorata arrives in the United States fresh from Manila, coming to terms with her life as a mail-order bride until she wins big at none other than the El Capitan. Engracia, however, finds misfortune amongst the glamor of the casino; her fate in the United States after making the dangerous journey from Mexico becomes intertwined with the past choices of others. Meanwhile, Coral attempts to uncover the secrets of her own shrouded past, her interactions with the women around her drawing her to the El Capitan and all of its exuberant history. The fates of these women connect inexplicably at the hands of a man with a gun.
Filled to the brim with captivating characters, humorous dialogue and unexpected twists and turns at every junction, “ ‘Round Midnight” maintains an engaging pace throughout its exploration of the four women’s trials. McBride is both succinct and expressive in her writing, capturing emotions and unspoken words with an admirable ease. What results is a defining rhythm throughout the novel that proceeds with grace.
Using an unparalleled and overwhelmingly beautiful style of engrossing storytelling, McBride showcases the unique intricacies of these four women and their shared struggle for identity, family and, most of all, redemption. From June’s struggle between a content marriage and passionate affair to Engracia’s crippling guilt over a shocking death, the novel flows with emotion, creating an intrinsic human connection between the readers and its characters. The incredible courage and moral strength of these women remind us that our sense of self is a product not of the turbulence that obscures our paths, but rather of our ability to conquer tragedy and thrive in its presence.
Reminiscent in both its structure and in its exploration of the female resolve to Barbara Kingsolver’s 1998 classic “The Poisonwood Bible,” “ ’Round Midnight” provides a fresh perspective on what it means to bloom in adversity. McBride extends this discussion nearly 20 years later, establishing her novel as a prime example of the “Great American Novel” in the process. McBride transcends the conventional depiction of women in American literature, capturing with intense realism the modern American woman and the ways in which her diverse experiences give her the resolve to persevere in even the darkest of times. With her stunning command of the written word, McBride unveils what it means to be a woman, a mother, a daughter and, above all else, a human being caught in the limbo of the internal and external struggles that define us.
“ ‘Round Midnight” is not simply a novel. It’s a heart-wrenching and tear-evoking journey that explores the delicate thread between our lives and the individuals that keep us afloat even as our worlds fall apart. By capturing the love, fear and pain that push and pull us all in an interconnected web, McBride creates a story that is both timeless and timely: she leads us to swallow our fears and peer into ourselves in the face of adversity as we ask, “How do I survive this?”
Contact Manisha Ummadi at [email protected].