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The Color of Night

3.15  ·  Rating details ·  161 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
Mae, a blackjack dealer in a Las Vegas casino, spends her free time wandering the desert with a rifle, or sitting in her trailer obsessively watching replays of an old lover escaping the wreckage of 9/11. What she sees in those images is different from what the rest of us would see. She revels in the pure anarchy, thrills at the destruction. These images recall memories of ...more
ebook, 125 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Vintage (first published 2011)
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Apr 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Bell's early acks, he states that his muses are "daemons," and that this story is proof. He writes that this is the "most vicious and appalling story ever to pass through my hand ... so inevitably some people will hate it." I did not hate it, despite being a reader who avoids graphic writing. (I will never read American Psycho.) When I saw that it was centered around a character named Mae who toted around a gun in the Southwestern desert, I had to read it. But had no idea what I was in for: i ...more
Nov 03, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one.
Based on the other reviews here, I kept plugging away at this book waiting for the story to get better, but it bored me nearly to death. I disliked the main character, Mae, so strongly that I *wanted* to read about her abuse, but just kept feeling disappointed as every bad thing that happened to her was glossed over so we could get to the next scene of her walking in the desert doing nothing. The parallel story about Mae's lost love was as thin as bible paper and just as easy to see through. The ...more
D.R. Haney
In lieu of reviewing this book, I think I’ll simply repost this exchange about it, à la Siskel and Ebert, that I’ve lifted from a literary message board elsewhere on the Internet. It’s far more thorough than anything I might attempt on my own.

COMMENTATOR #1: The Color of Night shares the name of a Bruce Willis movie, which is telling since the book proved to be pulp dressed up in fancy-pants language and heavy-handed symbolism taken from Greek mythology. (Two of the characters are referred to a
Roger Brunyate
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries-kinda
Latter-Day Bacchae

Las Vegas, September 11, 2001. Mae is a fifty-something blackjack dealer in a minor Las Vegas casino: "It was a sort of fifth-rate hell, and I a minor demon posted to it. A succubus too indifferent to suck." Watching coverage of the flight from Ground Zero, she catches sight of her former lover, Laurel, "kneeling on the sidewalk, her head thrown back, her hands stretched out with the fingers crooked, as weapons or in praise. Blood was running from the corners of her mouth, like
The Color of Night is a beautiful, haunting, and disturbing story, which I found fascinating. I see it as a character study about a girl's transformation from victim to predator. Madison Smartt Bell charts Mae's evolution through flashbacks that describe her sexual abuse at the hands of her brother with excruciating psychological verity. Mae says of Terrell, "He never forced. He persuaded. . ," thereby making her complicit in her own abuse. Mae's brother is the trigger that unleashes the animal ...more
Nina-Marie Gardner
a dark dream- no, make that a surreal nightmare. protagonist mae works in a vegas casino, roams the desert at night with a shotgun, and eats beef jerky for breakfast... so of course I was all over this.

rife with graphic scenes of incest, murder, drug-fueled orgies and rape, the writing was nonetheless gorgeous, poetic. a study in noir. I was especially interested in how it was crafted, weaving past and present, incorporating acid trips, fantasies, and flashbacks of a range of horrors from 9/11
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: different
There is no way to compare this one to other books of its ilk--books told from the point of view of people whose masochistic and sadistic tendencies co-mingle to a horrifying whole. It's like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. Perhaps a bad analogy, as the book opens with the main character watching the destruction of the Twin Towers and happening upon a clip of an old friend running from the site. Her old friend's pose in the brief shot reminds our main character of their communal past (I u ...more
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wondering around the desert at night with a rifle, being possessed by pagan gods, ritual sex murder - ya’ know feel-good-summer-time stuff - I knew this book was up my alley.

The Color of Night is actually a sophisticated and literate What If... story. What if two Manson girls got away unnoticed and lived on divergent paths until 9/11. One segued back into normalcy. While the other... yeah, that whole in the desert with a gun deal. The psychic wound of 9/11 tosses our gun-toting hermit back into
Sep 07, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
One of those inexcusable books--poorly written and even more poorly conceived, and the author clearly feels he is being so IN YOUR FACE. Deserves zero stars. Three hours of my life I will never, ever get back.
This was beautifully written, and I'm going to have to check out his other books, but I don't really know what I was supposed to glean from all of it. Incest and abuse leads into cult situation, sure, but why 9/11? And, uh, why Greek mythology? And even if Greek mythology, what the hell?

In any case, in some ways this was more convincing than The Girls, which appeared to be the darling of the summer and had similar Manson parallels.

I dunno... If you want a moody, disjointed, myth-inflected take
Feb 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir
this has a lot of elements one could assume would make for a fantastic story, manson family hijinks, twin towers getting wrecked and a family member watching if over and over on tv thinking "this is IT, ole chucky was RIGHT, it's all GOING DOWN", said member also getting her sniper rifle out and hitting the road to 1. visit her big brother's town in ohio, where he had a hostage situation with his wife and family and killed them and suicided by cop (nobody was home when she visited in 2001) 2. vi ...more
Betsy Phillips
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. It's a hard read but a good one.

Edited to add: Okay, upon thinking about this further, I feel like a more honest review of this book is that it's not as clever as it strives to be, but that it still fails into an amazing book.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the surface we see violence and loss, and beneath that, the traumas of the past. And yet further beneath, the movement of old Gods - the more forgotten, the more alive in the collective unconscious. I had not read Madison Smartt Bell for many years, and decided to return to him and read him through the lens of present time. Although this novel has disturbed and perplexed and even disappointed others, I found myself drawn to the main character Mae, who - for all her broken-ness and fragmentati ...more
Karen Belom
Beth Mclaughlin
Oct 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not sure I understood this book. Very surreal and disturbing look at a life of abuse, drug use, and lost souls.
Reza Mahani
The main story is not bad, but it's chopped and weird up in a not-so-good way. In the middle, I lost interest and finally left it unfinished.
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An engrossing, hypnotic read; style and plot worked a spell on me and I felt like I was glued to these pages, reading the whole novel in one long ethereal sitting. That was a week ago, and now that I've regained my senses and am detached from the damn thing, maybe I can think about it more objectively...

The style is the first thing that got me: short distilled sentences and chapters that feel light and compact at the same time.
But the real killer is what these sentences contain: brief pinches o
Susan Laddon
Jul 01, 2011 rated it liked it
This was a tough book to click the "like" button, because as my friend Reggie well knows, I usually have an exceedingly tough time enjoying a book if I do not care for the main character, which is the case for this novel. The subject matter was equally rough, and I found myself wondering about many aspects Smartt Bell employed. To give a specific example: there is a sentence relatively early in the novel that simply does not ring true for the time period Smartt Bell discusses (the 70's) unless I ...more
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Typically I put Madison Smartt Bell up there with my most favorite of authors. "Solider's Joy" and "Save Me Joe Louis" are among my most favorite of books and have been re-read often. However, "The Color of Night" was a huge disappointment. The book most resembled "Waiting for the End of the World" and "The Year of Silence" but, unlike those books, the narrative was barely coherent. The story was so deeply hidden and actually uninteresting it really wasn't worth digging out. One of the things th ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's excruciatingly boring for about the first two thirds, the only draw or interest being Mae's pure dispassionate comprehension of the world. the last bit makes things happen, but feels haphazard - the new aspects of the story, the bits where you have to stop and begin to doubt Mae's narrative, come too late to develop meaning.

So there's little passion, no sense of conclusion, and no real picking Mae's head and delivering insight into why she developed the way she did. Perhaps the novel was me
Mae is a loner, dealing blackjack in Vegas and retreating to her trailer at night, where she roams the desert with a rifle. She was the victim of horrific abuse in her childhood and left home at 16, wandering out to the Haight during the Summer of Love and ending up enmeshed in a cult that committed an horrific act. She and her lover, Laurel, escaped the mass arrest by slipping out of the group home and hiding out in the desert. Now Mae is alone and she sees an image of Laurel during the afterma ...more
Jonathan Norton
Mae is a croupier in a Las Vegas casino. She also turns out to be psychopath, as we find from her fragmented recollections of her abusive, incestuous childhood, and her time in a 60s LA cult called The One People (clearly modelled on the Manson Family, and end up busted for similar crimes). This mixes in with the present day: the final months of 2001, after she recognised another People escapee in the footage of survivors near to 9/11. Her dead-eyed, affectless narration takes us on an odyssey o ...more
Amy Davis
I really wanted to like this book. Reading the back I was so entranced by the sort of off beat story this book is trying to tell. However, getting into the book itself I was so disappointed. This book covers a variety of graphic topics from incest to rape to murder, and yet it is all glossed over. Being a book that contains such heavy themes I wanted to feel something for our protagonist, but the way this book is formatted no emotional connection to the main character Mae is ever really forged.
Aug 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm so glad I stumbled across this! Reminded me some of Geek Love and what Palahniuk could be if he actually tried to write instead of just shock. The language is achingly beautiful and the references to the greek mythologies made me want to find my copy of Bullfinch's Mythologies. However, this book is depicts violence and evil in that "train wreck" sort of way. I was horrified, repelled and fascinated at the same time. Recommend Recommend Recommend
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While this is not the book for everyone, I had to give it five stars because of the genius of the writing and symbolism.
It shows how being abused by her brother for years and then being part of the Manson Family with all of the drugs and orgies messed up the mind of a young woman until she considered herself only half mortal.
9/11 figures strongly into the story also.
It's deep; it's dark and it works.
Carolyn Bunkley
No stars. I wish there were negative stars so it would have to earn some just to get to zero.

Awful. Simply awful. Incest, murder, torture, and other weird stuff. It's one of the worst I've ever attempted to read. I could not force myself to finish, and that's unusual for me.

I might recommend it if you need something about 3/4 inch thick to put under the leg of a wobbly table.

Ugh. I need a shower.
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is no middle ground about it. You will either like this book or completely hate it. It's dark. VERY dark, and spans three time periods: a sexually abusive past; living on the Spahn ranch with the Manson family, and 9/11 flashbacks that all come together at the end - murders involved. If you are not fond of Chuck Palahniuk's style of writing then you will NOT like this book times 10.
As others have said, this is a VERY DARK book and you either love it or hate it. I have read a lot of Madison Smartt Bell over the years and I like his writing, so although this book was disturbing, I still liked it.
Ron Henry
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A damaged woman remembers her abusive childhood and her days with a Manson-like cult. She lives in the desert somewhere. Also, there's some 9/11 stuff thrown in there. Dreamy, impressionistic, nightmarish. Bell's a real poet. Yet, for me, this didn't add up to much.
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Madison Smartt Bell is a critically acclaimed writer of more than a dozen novels and story collections, as well as numerous essays and reviews for publications such as Harper’s and the New York Times Book Review. His books have been finalists for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, among other honors. Bell has also taught at distinguished creative writing programs including th ...more
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