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LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN FICTION • From one of our most accomplished novelists, a mesmerizing story about a mother and daughter seeking refuge in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War—and a brilliant portrait of family endurance against all odds
"A tour de force." —Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
In 1874, in the wake of the War, erasure, trauma, and namelessness haunt civilians and veterans, renegades and wanderers, freedmen and runaways. Twelve-year-old ConaLee, the adult in her family for as long as she can remember, finds herself on a buckboard journey with her mother, Eliza, who hasn’t spoken in more than a year. They arrive at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, delivered to the hospital’s entrance by a war veteran who has forced himself into their world. There, far from family, a beloved neighbor, and the mountain home they knew, they try to reclaim their lives.
The omnipresent vagaries of war and race rise to the surface as we learn their story: their flight to the highest mountain ridges of western Virginia; the disappearance of ConaLee’s father, who left for the War and never returned. Meanwhile, in the asylum, they begin to find a new path. ConaLee pretends to be her mother’s maid; Eliza responds slowly to treatment. They get swept up in the life of the facility—the mysterious man they call the Night Watch; the orphan child called Weed; the fearsome woman who runs the kitchen; the remarkable doctor at the head of the institution.
Epic, enthralling, and meticulously crafted, Night Watch is a stunning chronicle of surviving war and its aftermath.
About the Author
JAYNE ANNE PHILLIPS is the author of Black Tickets, Machine Dreams, Fast Lanes, Shelter, MotherKind, Lark and Termite, and Quiet Dell. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Bunting Fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Winner of an Arts and Letters Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she was inducted into the Academy in 2018. A National Book Award finalist, and twice a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, she lives in New York and Boston.
“Beautiful, mournful . . . Carefully and engrossingly crafted . . . The good suffer equally with the bad. Phillips’s artistic conscience won’t let her flinch from this truth, but her generous heart won’t let it be the last word. She leaves readers with a rueful yet doggedly hopeful maxim that could easily serve as an epigraph for Night Watch as a whole: ‘Endurance was strength.’”
—Wendy Smith, The Washington Post
“A story of trauma and restoration in the aftermath of the Civil War . . . Ms. Phillips presents harrowing, visceral scenes of war, but a lot of this novel relates the daily business of convalescence in an asylum, with loving attention given to the motley staff that tends to the unwell . . . The theme of healing extends to the plot. Ms. Phillips, who is drawn to depicting the poor, the mentally disabled, the wounded and other vulnerable souls, is a principled practitioner of narrative magic. Not only serendipity but a kind of clairvoyance connects the characters . . . Goodness is a real thing in this novel—a verifiable force—and the question posed is whether we still have the sensitivity to discern it.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“There is a luminous beauty in Phillips's prose. Whether it is the dark interiors of war—which have become her forte—or the equally complex and fraught lives of so-called ‘ordinary’ people, Phillips brings these theaters of peace and loss, death and transcendence together with a remarkable alchemy.”
—Ken Burns, filmmaker
“Jayne Anne Phillips is a brilliant artist working at the height of her powers. Word by word, and line by line, there is no one better. This novel lives where a startling imagination meets scrupulous research: Night Watch is a tour de force—breathtaking in both its scope and intensity."
—Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
“A profound meditation on identity, empathy, sanity, daughter-love, nature, and the Civil War, Night Watch will leave you shook and sustained. This novel delivers fictional reckoning that makes way for the potential of real-world reconciliation by delivering complex and necessary testimony and confession. Weaving photographs and fragments of non-fiction prose into an intimate family story, Night Watch is at once shatteringly particular and audaciously universal. Jayne Anne Phillips arrives at the crowning achievement of an extraordinary career.”
—Alice Randall, author of Black Bottom Saints
“Jayne Anne Phillips is a wonderfully gifted storyteller, and few contemporary writers can match the lyricism of her prose, but in this marvelous new novel, largely set in a factual nineteenth-century asylum, she achieves even more: history and imagination merge, and she gives the past a living pulse.”
—Ron Rash, author of The Caretaker
“A lovely piece of work . . . Night Watch is another of Jayne Anne Phillips’s intimate revelatory creations.”
—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
“A searing portrait of the cruelties of race, the insanity of war, and the tragedy of its aftermath.”
—Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
“It’s hard to know what to praise first—Jayne Anne Phillips’ signature beautiful sentences, the compelling scenes of battle and their ravaged aftermath, the fascinating portrayal of Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride’s ‘moral treatment’ method for the mentally ill, or the vivid depiction of the people and land of West Virginia in the 1860s and 70s. Night Watch takes a highly deserved place among important novels about war and its legacy.”
—Alice Elliott Dark, author of Fellowship Point
“Gorgeous prose, attention to detail, and masterful characters . . . Set in West Virginia during and after the Civil War, Phillips’ book takes as given that slavery was evil and the war a necessity, focusing instead on lives torn apart by the conflict and on the period’s surprisingly enlightened approach toward care of the mentally ill . . . Pitch-perfect voice . . . Haunting storytelling and a refreshing look at history.”
“Exquisite attention to detail propels a superb meditation on broken families in post–Civil War West Virginia . . . A profound sense of loss haunts the novel, and Phillips conveys a strong sense of place . . . The bruised and turbulent postbellum era comes alive in Phillips’s page-turning affair.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred
“Vivid . . . Phillips excels in crafting original takes on human circumstances, like mother-daughter relationships and women’s vulnerabilities and resilience. Her setting here is equally striking: the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in rural West Virginia . . . The historical milieu comes alive in all its facets as Phillips evokes the enduring bonds of both blood and chosen families.”
“Tracing an arc from catastrophic damage and loss to recovery through the Civil War and its aftermath, Phillips marries a timeless emotional quality and utterly contemporary sensibility to create a satisfying work in her first novel in a decade . . . Night Watch is escapist in the best sense of the word, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the experience of a distant era and identify deeply with the struggles of the people who lived through it.”
—Harvey Freedenberg, BookPage