Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Night Before.
Walker builds the suspense of her novel on the perceptions of her protagonists in shifting time frames and from psychological sessions pre- and post-event. Laura Lochner is at the heart of the mystery, an enigmatic character with a complicated history, buoyed by the support of her small family unit.
Recently returned to her childhood home in Branston, Connecticut, Laura has taken a leave of absence from a high-pressure Wall Street career and is temporarily living with her sister, Rosie, brother-in-law Joe, and their young son. The small, close-knit family has a long history together since childhood, including a former friend, Gabe, who lives nearby with his wife.
The family home, where Rosie resides with husband and son, is a place of refuge for Laura, who disappeared for years after a tragic incident. Now, drawn like a moth to flame, the former group reunites, encouraging Laura to experience a simpler life, dating again and making new friends. Though we first meet Laura in a therapy session, the real drama begins the night before and the day after meeting with a man she finds on the internet.
Though secretly excited, Laura struggles with self doubts as she prepares for her rendezvous. Her nervous preparation the night of the meeting exposes the lifelong conflicts of a beautiful woman with a deep desire for love she cannot find. Settled safely in her sister's cozy home, with supportive friends, she is determined to try again in spite of a crippling fear of failure.
The day after, the plot reveals a darker side to a simple tale. Long-kept secrets and fears unveil a troubling history, enhancing a sense of imposing violence. A dark cloud hovers over the characters, rendering the innocence of the night before ominous. Suspicion permeates every conversation, from Laura's resistance to complete honesty in therapy to the close bonds of the primary players.
Using these different perspectives allows Walker to build the suspense in a psychological novel made of brief profiles and innuendo, unfinished stories and intimate connections, all propelled to a shocking denouement. It is both clever and seductive. It doesn't take long for a world to turn inside out.