Alicia's Reviews > A Cold Night for Alligators

A Cold Night for Alligators by Nick Crowe
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's review
Jan 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: canadian-author, family, canadian-literature-and-fiction, general-contemporary-fiction, mental-illness, reviewed
Recommended for: Canadians who are easy-going enough to laugh at themselves
Read from January 19 to 24, 2011 — I own a copy

When I won A Cold Night For Alligators in a goodreads giveaway, I really didn't have a clue what to expect from the book. I wasn't even clear on what general genre or narrative style it laid claim to. I think I had a vague idea that it was going to be some sort of trendy, experimental, post-modern type of thing, along the lines of The New Bizarro Author Series. Turns out that it's actually a standard contemporary (read: dysfunctional) family drama with a bit of excellent mystery/crime mixed in, which was far preferable to reading about haunted vajays or whatever other (supposedly) shocking trend is big in post-modern lit right now. Point being, Cold Night is a perfectly accessible drama/mystery for even dumb little readers like me, so perhaps the marketing needs to make this a bit more clear? Something about the cover or the description or just something, I'm not sure what, gave me the impression that this would be a really inaccessible literary read, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Cold Night tells the story of two canadian brothers, Jasper and Coleman, while detailing Coleman's painful deterioration into mental illness. Jasper's first-person narrative switches back and forth between his present - the late 1990s - and his past - flashbacks to his canadian childhood which are oriented around his experiences with the changing Coleman. The contents of the flashbacks are vividly painful as the reader watches Jasper's best friend (and brother) transform into a stranger, all in a very similar vein to Wally Lamb's beautiful I Know This Much Is True. Coleman disappeared as a teenager, and it is only after a life changing accident years later, (view spoiler), that Jasper decides to go search for Coleman in southern Florida, where he was last sighted.

Cold Night was full of witty, colourful characters. Duane and Donny, the two buddies who accompanied Jasper on his road trip to Florida, were both incredibly well-developed and entertaining. Having known plenty of eccentric small-town canadians in my life, I could totally picture both their types - the slightly sexist yet still lovable Duane and the gentle giant Donny. Initially, I was a bit worried about Jasper as a character. In the first 75 pages or so, it's really difficult not to get tired of Jasper's douchey "I'm sooo sarcastic and sooo above it all" routine. I was a bit worried that he wouldn't evolve beyond that, but luckily he experiences immense growth as a character and manages to pull it off in a way that isn't trite or unbelievable. Aunt Val was lovely. I would have liked to see a bit more depth for Kim, or just something beyond Jasper's extremely one-sided view of her and their (ex)relationship - I found Jasper very condescending towards Kim. Kim certainly wasn't blameless, but even before the accident and her hooking up with Donny, Jasper seemed to have this irritating attitude of superiority towards her.

I didn't really like the fact that Melissa just fell into bed with Jasper. I just get tired of how every male lead, no matter how douchey or unattractive, has to have this beautiful, knockout, sexy woman just fall into bed with them without any effort - I was pleased that there were consequences at least, but I just find that trope tired and unbelievable, or I would at least like to see it play out with a woman who is described as "average-looking". In fact, Melissa could have used a bit more development too - I don't think her motivations in attaching herself to the horrendous Lee family were really examined. I think it was being implied that she had low self-esteem, causing her to sleep around with many of the male persuasion, which is actually another idea that I'm a bit tired of. Not every girl who sleeps with a lot of guys automatically has low self-esteem or hates herself - some girls just enjoy variety. Complaints about a few of the minor characters aside, most of the characters were highly enjoyable and well fleshed out.

The writing was stellar. The prose is crisp and modern, with lots of gritty evocative descriptions of things like bad coffee breath and commercialized american beer. The book does a nice job of dealing with existential dilemmas in an accessible way, rather than in a Jonathan Franzen Wes Anderson makes-you-want-to-slap-every-spoiled-character-out-of-their-self-absorbed-existentialism kind of way.

I think for me the real strength of Cold Night was as a study in North American regionalities. I love Canadian fiction, and I do my best to support Canadian authors (fuck cultural Americanization! and all that), and Nick Crowe did not disappoint with lots of canadian name-dropping, including ice fishing, mac's milk convenience and Timmins, Ontario. Rather than delving too much into Canadian identity, Cold Night focused more on portraying the relationship between Canadian/American regions, specifically hotspot vacay destination Florida and suburban Ontario. I found it very fascinating to explore the cultural and regional differences (yes, both redneck Virginians and redneck Floridians think Canadians are a "bunch of hippies and gaylords") and varying perceptions that Americans have of Canadians depending on their region, socioeconomic class, etc.

To finish off, a quick comment about the cover. Since my copy was an uncorrected ARC, it just had a picture of the author's face on the cover (which was bad enough because it meant that I could not stop picturing Nick Crowe as Jasper), but if the retail cover is to be that green/yellow thing displayed above, I really don't think it will do the book justice. With the kindergarden colours and animal cartoon, it looks very juvenile, almost like a children's book or YA. I know I shouldn't judge a book on the cover and all that, but the sad truth is that many people do. I think a more adult-looking cover, something befitting a mystery or crime novel, would have a lot more readers picking the book up or at least having their interest sparked. Sadly, covers are very important these days, perhaps more than they should be, but hey, whatever gets people picking up a book, right?
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Reading Progress

01/20/2011 page 1
0.0% "No idea what to expect from this book - I don't even really get what genre it is, but here goes!"
01/21/2011 page 148
46.0% "Just learned that redneck Americans have a term for us Canadians: "Snow Mexicans". Huh."
01/23/2011 page 241
75.0% ""Throw a stone in Florida these days and you're more likely to hit a sunburned Canadian than you are a native.""

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Jean-marcel Just reading this book now. Seems enjoyable and pretty funny. In Jasper's defense, Kim is pretty annoying; he's doing a better job of not being smug to her than I ever would. :P

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