What Happens at Night By Peter Cameron
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.7 MB
An American couple travel to a strange, snowy European city to adopt a baby, who they hope will resurrect their failing marriage. This difficult journey leaves the wife, who is struggling with cancer, desperately weak, and her husband worries that her apparent illness will prevent the orphanage from releasing their child.
The couple check into the cavernous and eerily deserted Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel where the bar is always open and the restaurant serves thirteen-course dinners from centuries past. Their attempt to claim their baby is both helped and hampered by the people they encounter: an ancient, flamboyant chanteuse, a debauched businessman, an enigmatic faith healer, and a stoic bartender who dispenses an addictive, lichen-flavored schnapps. Nothing is as it seems in this mysterious, frozen world, and the longer the couple endure the punishing cold the less they seem to know about their marriage, themselves, and life itself.
What Happens at Night is a “masterpiece” (Edmund White) poised on the cusp of reality, told by “an elegantly acute and mysteriously beguiling writer” (Richard Eder, The Boston Globe).
The hotel was at the very center of the old town, and the streets around it were extremely narrow, made even narrower by the towering piles of snow, so the taxi drove slowly. The town seemed eerily underpopulated; many of the stores were vacant, their glass windows empty or occupied by a desolate naked mannequin staring out at the cold world.
The streets grew wider nearer the outskirts, and what little charm the old city had was replaced by a modern ugliness of concrete and glazed brick, but it wasn’t long before they had left the town behind and were on a country road, bounded by snow-covered fields on one side and a forest on the other. They drove for quite a while through this unchanging landscape until a building appeared before them on the side with the fields, surrounded by a wall of very tall fir trees. It was set quite far back from the road, and the car turned off onto a narrow driveway and drove toward the building, passing through a gap between two trees that were spaced a bit farther apart than the others, but whose branches nevertheless entwined, forming a portal. Crows—or ravens; some dark large cawing bird—erupted from the trees as the car passed beneath them and flapped off, complainingly, over the empty fields.
The building they approached had the appearance of a manor house. It was three stories tall and made of stucco painted pale green. There was no sign or any other indication that the building was an orphanage and not a private home except for the sterility of its unadorned façade, whose starkness was vaguely institutional. Smoke rose from two chimneys that protruded from the slate-shingled roof.
The taxi drew up before the unassuming front door, which was raised above the level of the drive by a few stone steps, which had been carefully swept of the snow and sprinkled with dirt. The man, who was attempting to hew to his new philosophy of assuming the best in all situations, was heartened by these signs of hospitality and preparedness. They both got out of the car and the woman walked quickly to the edge of the gravel drive and leaned over, placing her hands on her knees. As her husband watched, she released a geyser of vomit onto the bank of snow. After a moment she straightened up, though she remained facing away from him, looking toward the wall of trees that surrounded the building. She raised one of her hands in the air with her fingers extended, as if she were taking an oath. It was a gesture the man knew well: it meant she wanted to be left alone. So, instead of going to her, he walked around the car to the driver’s window, which unrolled as he approached. The concierge had informed him of what the trip should cost, and the man gave this amount to the driver, plus a little extra. He asked the driver if he would wait a moment, in case there was some problem gaining access to the building, and the driver nodded agreeably but drove away as soon as his window was shut. The man ran a few steps after the car, waving his arms and calling out, but the taxi took no notice of him and sped away through the arch in the trees.