Excerpt from The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Night Stages

by Jane Urquhart

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart X
The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2016, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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LEICA

There is a black-and-white photograph of Kenneth standing in sunlight beside a prairie railway station. He is loose-limbed and smiling, happy maybe, or at least unconcerned about the journey he seems poised to take. Slim, fresh-faced, all dressed up, he appears to be just a kid really, possibly leaving home for the first time. But nothing about his posture, or the atmosphere around him, suggests anxiety. He wants to get going, this young man, but he is not at all unhappy with, or uncurious about, the place where he stands. His shadow falls behind him, but the gesture painted by it is one of eagerness. He will never lose this alertness, this aura of keenness.

The station's platform is dry and clean: there have not been any recent bouts of snow. But Kenneth's overcoat, and his gloves and scarf, suggest that it is cold. There is also a winter clarity of sunlight and crispness of shadow on the cement under his feet, a full sun in a clear sky above him. And then there is this anticipation – that eagerness.

A cable telegraph sign is just behind his left shoulder: it could be he has sent or has received some sort of message, a declaration or a summons. Perhaps he will be gone from the place where he stands, and quite soon. Everything around him in this picture – shadows, the raised arms of the railway signal, the sky and the station – speaks of a departure to places larger and more complicated, a drift toward relationships more sophisticated than those unfolding in the town or village beyond the edges of the picture. An entrance into commerce, perhaps, or maybe sudden fame. It is not at all hard to imagine Kenneth gone, the quay empty, and the photographer, whoever he or she may be, turning away, walking back into a town that has already begun to fade.

*   *   *

But Kenneth is older than he looks in this image: he has already taken and abandoned several points of view. He has been to Paris, Milan, Madrid. He has been educated by museums and instructed by teachers. He has met – briefly – certain celebrated artists. He has visited important monuments and gazed at significant landmarks. He has gathered all of this together and has brought it with him to this stark place, along with a wife and two children. Yes, he is married and has children.

There is a grain elevator in the distance on the other side of the tracks. Some sort of field, far away, is almost hidden by Kenneth's left elbow. He is not a prairie boy, but he has chosen this sky, this platform, and everything beyond it as a background to his daily life, and he has become familiar with returning to such a landscape after completing projects in the outer world. In spite of how things may look, this is a photo of arrival, one taken just after disembarkation, when the airport mural was still bright and alive in his mind, the paint on it hardly dry.

If he were to close his eyes now, the figures he has created would stare back at him – a questioning congregation – wondering where he has gone. His back is turned to the distances suggested by the converging lines of the railway tracks. The sky is utterly empty. Kenneth's shadow is a thin ghost on the quay. But there are thousands and thousands of miles inside him.

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Excerpted from The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart. Copyright © 2015 by Jane Urquhart. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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