Summary and book reviews of The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin

The Night Always Comes

by Willy Vlautin

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin X
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

Award-winning author Willy Vlautin explores the impact of trickle-down greed and opportunism of gentrification on ordinary lives in this scorching novel that captures the plight of a young woman pushed to the edge as she fights to secure a stable future for herself and her family.

Barely thirty, Lynette is exhausted. Saddled with bad credit and juggling multiple jobs, some illegally, she's been diligently working to buy the house she lives in with her mother and developmentally disabled brother Kenny. Portland's housing prices have nearly quadrupled in fifteen years, and the owner is giving them a good deal. Lynette knows it's their last best chance to own their own home—and obtain the security they've never had. While she has enough for the down payment, she needs her mother to cover the rest of the asking price. But a week before they're set to sign the loan papers, her mother gets cold feet and reneges on her promise, pushing Lynette to her limits to find the money they need.

Set over two days and two nights, The Night Always Comes follows Lynette's frantic search—an odyssey of hope and anguish that will bring her face to face with greedy rich men and ambitious hustlers, those benefiting and those left behind by a city in the throes of a transformative boom. As her desperation builds and her pleas for help go unanswered, Lynette makes a dangerous choice that sets her on a precarious, frenzied spiral. In trying to save her family's future, she is plunged into the darkness of her past, and forced to confront the reality of her life.

A heart wrenching portrait of a woman hungry for security and a home in a rapidly changing city, The Night Always Comes raises the difficult questions we are often too afraid to ask ourselves: What is the price of gentrification, and how far are we really prepared to go to achieve the American Dream? Is the American dream even attainable for those living at the edges? Or for too many of us, is it only a hollow promise?


Kenny had his hands around her ankle and began pulling her from the bed. A small lamp on the dresser was the only light in the room and he stood over her in his Superman T-shirt and pajama bottoms. It was winter and a portable radiant heater in the middle of the room gave off little warmth, and his breath came out in small disappearing clouds.

Lynette woke suddenly and looked at the clock on the nightstand: three a.m. "I get to sleep for fifteen more minutes. So please don't touch me or say anything until then." She was thirty years old and got out of bed in ten-year-old sweats and wool socks, shut off the light on the dresser, and got back under the covers.

In the darkness his breathing grew louder.

"Go back upstairs," she cried.

He began to whimper.

"Please," she begged, but he didn't stop. It only became worse, so she turned on the bedside lamp next to the alarm clock and looked at him. "Jesus, don't start crying. It's too early and I'm exhausted and you know I'm mean when I...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The book opens with a quote from the 45th President of the United States of America: "The point is you can't be too greedy." Discuss the theme of greed in this book. How does greed drive the motivations of the characters?
  2. Even though the house is filled with many of Lynette's most troubling moments, she still is intent on purchasing it. What does home represent for Lynette? What do you think about when you think about home?
  3. Why do you think Lynette's mother decided to buy a car and move out? Do you agree with her decision?
  4. Lynette and her mother both have unique relationships with Kenny. How do their relationships with differ? In what ways are they similar?
  5. What were your preconceived notions of the American Dream before reading this ...
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BookBrowse Review


While it's a relatively slight novel, Vlautin skillfully develops the two most prominent characters — Lynette and her mother. Their relationship is incredibly complicated due to their difficult past, and both prove themselves capable of being cruel and kind in equal measure. In the guise of a highly readable page-turner, Vlautin has penned an ode to the resilience of those being left behind by gentrifying communities — embracing their stories, flaws and all, and calling for better support systems to be put in place before they slip through the cracks for good...continued

Full Review Members Only (515 words).

(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

New York Times
The novel, Vlautin’s sixth, stalls out during its many long monologues spelling out exactly what each character is thinking in clunky detail. Vlautin’s etchings of the city’s poor, white population are at times overwrought, especially around the topic of weight, as are the inner lives of anyone who’s not the main character. That tendency is extra egregious when it comes to Lynette’s mother, a dreary antagonist whose motives no number of monologues manage to three-dimensionalize. The novel regains its footing, though, in the moments where we get to live in Lynette’s inner world.

Washington Post
Vlautin’s sixth novel rewards fans of his slow, careful style in an intense story about gentrification in Portland, Ore.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Vlautin offers a stunning, heartbreaking study of one woman's struggle against fate and circumstance in an America that's left her behind...This gritty page-turner sings with pitch-perfect prose...Vlautin has achieved a brilliant synthesis of Raymond Carver and Jim Thompson.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[G]ripping...A working-class drama finds the grit beneath Portland's gentrification.

Library Journal (starred review)
The story resonates, with characters we come to feel we know and dialog that is so natural we hear it, not just read it...This is literary art that will keep readers in their seats until the last page.

Booklist (starred review)
Emotionally wrenching.…"You never give up and you've got a good heart, a damaged heart, but a good heart." We concur, of course, and race to the end to see if good hearts can maybe, just this once, make a difference. With Vlautin, you never know for sure.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and Chances Are…
The trick to writing a great thriller is both simple and very, very difficult: make us care about the person whose life is in jeopardy. I can't remember the last time I worried myself sick about a fictional character the way I did about Lynette in Willy Vlautin's terrific, big-hearted new novel The Night Always Comes. You won't soon forget either her or the fraught world she so courageously navigates.

Author Blurb Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone and The Maid's Version
I finished reading this novel dripping with admiration for Willy Vlautin and the tough wonder he has brought forth. The Night Always Comes hits the high-water mark; there is skillful and beautiful objectivity to the writing, characters so real that when they bleed you get a few drops on your sleeve, and a story of economic want and desperation and heart.

Author Blurb Megan Abbott, author of Give Me Your Hand and You Will Know Me
Willy Vlautin's The Night Always Comes is a tear-struck revelation—both epic and timely, intimate and clear-eyed. Only Vlautin could cross the harrowing emotional richness of A Woman Under the Influence with the breakneck desperation of the greatest of film noir. Lynette will have you from the first page and put you to the test a hundred times before the last. You'll finish knowing you'll never forget her.

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Beyond the Book

Gentrification and Historic Racism in Portland

Demonstrators with signs protesting gentrification in PortlandIn Willy Vlautin's novel, The Night Always Comes, a family in Portland, Oregan find themselves struggling to afford the cost of living in their neighborhood because of gentrification.

Gentrification is the process in which wealthy individuals and businesses converge on a previously working-class or low-income neighborhood. (The word is derived from "gentry" and was coined in 1964 by sociologist Ruth Glass to describe an influx of middle-class people to working-class London neighborhoods.) This is different from urban renewal, which is a typically government-sponsored process of revitalizing a neighborhood to the benefit of those already living there while also attracting new residents. In either case, the influx of new money serves as a...

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