In The Midnight Room
By Laura McBride
Touchstone Paperback, $16.00, available today, Tuesday, August 21
Laura McBride, whose debut novel We Are Called to Rise, was a #1 Next Indie Pick and a B&N Discover selection, captures the intensity and intimacy of women's lives in her new novel, In The Midnight Room.
The women of In The Midnight Room:
June, who casts aside her Jewish roots and eventually settles in Las Vegas with her husband Del and son Marshall. They get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning city and open the El Capitan casino, which flourishes after they hire Eddie, an exquisitely talented African-American singer, to entertain in their segregated night club, Midnight Room.
Honorata, a striking Filipina woman whose greedy uncle blackmails her into becoming a mail order
bride for a wealthy businessman, sees her luck change when she hits the jackpot at El Capitan.
Coral, who was adopted into a loving family that took her in as their own, is a successful teacher who struggles to accept that she may never understand her roots or know the parents who left her. She is a friendly neighbor to Honorata, who at one point asks Coral for a favor.
Engracia, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who works as a maid for Honorata, is quiet and isolated. She lives mostly inside her overwhelming grief that makes her reckless when confronted by a potentially violent man.
"March 11, 1960: In the Midnight Room," writes McBride. "Coming in the casino's main entry, the Midnight Room was on the right. A scantily clad ingenue wearing a golden star in front of her torso - its two jeweled points artfully covering the money bits - adorned the neon marquee above the door. Below, a man in black tie greeted those lucky enough to have a ticket, and escorted the ones who slipped him enough cash to the better seats in the room.
"It was a straightforward solution: a hundred-foot stage, with a narrow apron, about four feet above the main floor. There were twenty or so small round tables, and chairs with red velvet seats. Along the back wall were a row of booths, higher even than the stage, and the velvet there was closer to maroon, and the stained glass lamps cast a warm but not revealing glow on the table where the drinks would sit. The sound system was excellent, and the lighting was standard, and there was room for a pretty good-sized band on the stage if someone wanted it.
"That night, there was a man playing the piano, another playing the sax, and a third on the drums. When the curtain parted in the back, a top light rotated to catch the singer's face. He'd been doing this awhile; he swung to the light intuitively and let it accent the plane of his cheekbone, the hollow of his eye, the curve of his lip.
"He was thinking he might never play there again.
"He knew what was coming later.
"And when he saw her, sitting at the back, at the booth she always sat in - still he was startled, it had been a long time, she had not said she was coming - he signaled to the band to quit playing. He thought he might say something, just say it, put it out there, but in that split second in which he would have had to decide what to say, in which he would have had to find the courage to say it, he suddenly remembered the first tie he'd seen her.
"He'd had no idea who she was. He was new in town, didn't know anyone at all. And of course, she was the only white woman. She'd looked up - damn, she was good looking - and the horn player had sounded a note, and he'd swung his hip, just a little, instinctively, and her breath had caught - he'd actually seen that; he'd never forgotten it - and right that minute, maybe he'd fallen in love.
"So tonight, four years later, when it was probably the last time he would ever sing for her, he lifted his finger to Jamie, who played the sax, and when the note sounded, he closed his eyes and remembered the rotten little bar, the white woman's face, the flick of his hip, and he let his body take over, repeated the one instant of that fateful night, and as he did so, he remembered, he thought of her face, the intake of her breath. He remembered, even though of course she would not."
McBride says of the story she crafted, "I was writing a novel about Engracia, but halfway through, I went to this tired little nightclub in a casino that was about to close, and saw a terrific show. The four entertainers were veteran performers - quite old, but wow, could they sing and dance. I fell into a reverie about the people who had come in and out of that nightclub over 50 years, and thought back to all the wonderful performances that I had seen in Las Vegas. There's so much magic possible in live entertainment, and the magic depends on the audience as well as the artist. I walked out of that lovely, little-known show with an entirely different novel in my head: one that revolved around a nightclub, from its heyday in the 1950's to the months before it is to be imploded. In The Midnight Room evolved a lot from that original conception, but I had such fun weaving an array of characters into a novel sprung from an iconic Vegas place. Some of those characters are brand new to me, but others have been in my mind for a long time; I first started thinking about Honorata twenty-five years ago."
In The Midnight Room is a captivating story of four extraordinary women and their transformative experiences. McBride's powerful prose shines through as she guides the reader on a rollercoaster ride of joy, heartbreak, longing, and suspense to an exquisite moment of fulfillment and redemption.