Up All Night
Reviewed by John A. Mangarella for Small Spiral Notebook
There's a powerful piston in American engine that often goes unnoticed until night covers the land. We see the tip of this iceberg in the face of the convenience store clerk or the gas station attendant battling boredom between customers. Martha Gies' Up All Night is a solid book that takes a peek behind night time's curtain at all those people who choose to live their lives after the sun goes down.
The night worker. The female cabby slicing through the toughest neighborhoods. The cop whose sirens punctuate the darkness. The EMT crew rushing toward the emergency room. The nude dancer. The longshoreman. And countless others who eat lunch at midnight and supper at dawn while living on a river of industrial strength coffee. Gies utilizes their distinct voices to draw us into the dark hours when graveyard America punches a nocturnal time clock and goes to work.
Up All Night is different even from the first story concerning Sativa, the nude dancer. It's certainly not about the "glamour" of nude dancing but more about a woman that happens to work in the nude for a living. The elements of Sativa's life that deliver her to the naked stage are the depth Ms. Gies wants us to examine. And each story- story being such an inadequate word as it implies fiction- possesses the same verbal power giving each page a soundtrack. You can hear the background noise, or quiet, of Portland after hours.
The night people posses a strength that differs from their rigidly structured daytime counterparts. For example, there's an interesting similarity of devotion between Emma Bosco who oversees the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist at St. Agatha's Church and longshoreman Bruce Lyngstad who drives a massive crane on the Portland docks. Emma's religious devotion is every bit as tenacious as Bruce's adept handling of the crane as he swings huge containers high above other dockworkers whose lives are always at risk.
We spend time with the computer genius who peels back the mystery of late night tech support while leaving the mystique. The phone tech's story is timely because thousands of those jobs are being outsourced to overseas locations. In a sense, you can almost hear the clock ticking on that job and Ms. Gies has managed to capture his voice before politics and economy extinguishes it. She brings us into the oncology ward where the charge nurse has the heartbreakingly hopeful job of caring for children with cancer. The twenty-two year old manager of the all night pool hall might not be "The Hustler" but his fervent reverence for pool as a game as well as a way of life is every bit as distinctive as a reverberating break shot. We go from hospital to truck stop to taxi cab to police car to radio station to a host of places where there's light in the darkness and people spend those hours bringing the grave yard shift to life.
Martha Gies is a savvy writer whose sophisticated eye for detail allows Up All Night to become an oral history rather than a volume of overnight anecdotes.