Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines's take on The Night Before.
With its underpinnings in the erotic fiction genre, The Night Before is a study of feminine obsession and desire. Laura has moved back from New York to Branston, Connecticut to be with her sister Rosie, Rosie's husband, Joe, and their best childhood friend, Gabe. Rosie and Joe's house is about a mile from the place "where all of this started"--Deer Hill Lane, where, "like a band of thieves," the four have hidden a dark secret from their childhood, a secret that has bled into much of Laura's adult life.
There's something mildly disconcerting about Laura's current state. She's thinks she's happy, and she wants to be content like Rosie and Joe. She has returned home because of a breakup, but she's also just signed up on a dating website and contacted a man called Jonathan Fields. A hedge-fund manager, Jonathan tells Laura that he drives a black BMW and that his wife left him a year ago. He seems to be a man with a proven track record in the sport of love and commitment. Laura is quick to tell him about her impressive resume--an MBA from Columbia and job on Wall Street--and how she now needs a shrink to tell her how to behave.
Laura tells Rosie that she will not stay out long with this man, "just enough to entice him." As Laura puts on her lipstick and new dress, she leaves her old self behind. Late one night at a bar, Laura catches a stolen glimpse of a woman. Perhaps she was also engaged in a passionate liaison with the rugged blue-eyed, dark-haired Jonathan. Confiding to him about her many regrets and mistakes, Laura is plagued by her usual feelings of self-hatred, insanity and desperation. Perhaps Jonathan Fields is saving her from myself? She wants to know more about his divorce, why he got married and what went wrong. What happened to his BMW? And why was the woman from the first bar calling his name?
The novel is not structured as a conventional mystery but is more an exploration of intimacy, power and sex. We learn about Laura's session with her therapist in New York City and how she was unlucky in love. As her mind drifts back to the woods, back to that car and that night, Laura's burden--now chapters long--is filled with questions, explanations and secret investigations of the holes in Gabe and Mitch Adler's stories. Though intelligent and articulate, Laura is abhorrently self-centered, a reckless risk-taker. It's not until the book's final thirty pages that we begin to feel much compassion for her, especially after she attempts to reconstruct Jonathan into a man who might love her.
"I see Jonathan and now see Mitch and I remember the swirling together of warm lusty bliss, and red-hot rage." Sex is used to probe Laura's inner psyche, revealing deep-seated needs and fixations, which leaves the reader feeling anxious. When Laura fails to come home, Rosie goes looking for her and for anything that might tell her where her sister has gone. With Laura's phone offline, Rosie's worries ricochet from her tangled thoughts to her husband and Gabe.
Rosie is also haunted by the picture from Laura's past--the smell of the fire, the scream in the woods and more complicity. What is it about love with a stranger? What makes two people who are neither family nor blood stay or leave? Walker inserts plentiful red-herrings that frame Laura's "night out" as she barrels toward a man who she is convinced can't love her and seems to have a deceptive, manipulative exterior.
In Walker's desperate tale of obsession, murder and passion, Rosie urgently searches for her sister while Laura desperately aches for love, a love that can't help being tied to her insecurities and to the secrets of her past.