Know the Night: A Memoir of Survival in the Small Hours

Know the Night: A Memoir of Survival in the Small Hours

by Maria Mutch

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This soul-stirring debut memoir explores the experience of isolation and the miraculous power of care and communication in its midst.

In this soul-stirring debut memoir, Maria Mutch explores the miraculous power that care and communication have in the face of the deep, personal isolation that often comes with disability. A chronicle of the witching hours between


This soul-stirring debut memoir explores the experience of isolation and the miraculous power of care and communication in its midst.

In this soul-stirring debut memoir, Maria Mutch explores the miraculous power that care and communication have in the face of the deep, personal isolation that often comes with disability. A chronicle of the witching hours between midnight and six a.m., this meditative book takes place during the twoyear period in which Mutch’s son Gabriel, who is autistic and also has Down syndrome, rarely slept through the night. In this tapestry composed of interwoven memories, we see both Gabriel’s difficult childhood and Maria’s introduction to the world of multiple disability parenting.

As a counterpoint to Gabriel’s figurative isolation is the story of Admiral Richard Byrd, the polar explorer who journeyed alone into the Antarctic wilderness in the 1930s. His story creates a shared and powerful language for the experience of feeling alone.

In these three characters—mother, son, and explorer—Mutch reveals overlapping and layered themes of solitude that, far from driving us apart, enlighten, uplift, and connect.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
During the two years her autistic son Gabriel—who was born with Downs Syndrome, later diagnosed with Autism, and does not speak--cycled through repetitive behaviors, refusing to sleep, soiling himself, and becoming a "cyclone" of inarticulate sounds, Canadian poet Mutch experienced a dark night of the soul. She compares the claustrophobia to the four months American explorer Richard Byrd spent in an Antarctic hut in 1934, slowly being poisoned by carbon monoxide. Her reflections on Byrd's expedition, Camus' 1942 essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," Van Gogh's "shattered mind," as well as the rhythmic, improvisational jazz that calms Gabriel transform Mutch's memoir of raising a child with Down Syndrome into a meditation on the effects of silence, isolation, and unusual forms of rescue. Mutch, who now lives with her family in Rhode Island, presents her nighttime vigils as solitary odysseys into the depths of her son's perception of the world. With the exact perception only a parent offers, she suggests that Gabriel is in fact a sorcerer, wizard, and puzzle casting a spell over her. Her wise reading of his motivations and thoughts on the existential meaning of his condition create a compassionate picture of his world. (Mar.)
The Masters Review
Know the Night is an impressive debut for author Maria Mutch, whose literary memoir maintains that magical balance between lyricism and realism.... very universal and lovely, and utterly worth the read.
The Globe and Mail
"A beautiful, singular book, one that someone who’s planning, say, a prolonged stay in a godforsaken place might consider bringing along so they don’t feel quite so alone."
Psychology Today
"[S]uperb writing and linguistic flair..."
"Know the Night is an exhibition of literary eloquence, a tale set in darkness, but filled with light, and a moving debut memoir about maternal love — its beauty and strength, its complications and contradictions, and most importantly, its boundlessness."
"Memoirs Too Powerful to Put Down"
There are moments of heartrending grief, such as when Gabriel says his last words… but it's Mutch herself, revealing her struggle to survive as a person, that leaves you astonished.”
Lynn Kern Koegel
“Mutch details her life in the wee hours of the morning and eloquently draws parallels between the challenges of raising a child with significant disabilities and Byrd’s experiences while utterly alone on his South Pole expedition. This fascinating thought-provoking book provides a unique opportunity to understand the love between a mother and child, and how that bond creates both chaos and strength. It should be required reading for anyone who works with a child with disabilities and recommended reading for everyone else. It is educational, entertaining, and absolutely unique. I guarantee you will enjoy every sentence of this book. Know the Night is such a literary gift.”
author of Honeymoon in Purdah and Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter - Alison Wearing
"From the moment I opened this book, I felt pulled into a uniquely scintillating world, one built of ice crystals, poetic aurorae, starscapes shimmering with jazz, and a boy whose body sings and storms through the night. Mutch writes gorgeously, transcendently, but with the hard packed earth of wisdom underfoot. For anyone who has ever walked the night with their child or their fragile self, there is company here. And for anyone curious to know what love and grace feel like when they are pressed into pages, this is your book."
author of My Ghosts and The Boys in the Trees - Mary Swan
"Know the Night is a wonderful book. Thoughtful and poetic and moving, sometimes troubling and sad, without ever being gloomy. Deeply personal, but enriched by the juxtaposition of Byrd's struggle with solitude and the long polar night. It has stayed with me, and I'm grateful to have been taken along on the author's journey."
author of The Gin Closet and The Empathy Exams - Leslie Jamison
"Know The Night offers a magnificent vision of amother's love—a love sculpted from jazz and ice and dreams; a love largeenough to hold the darkness between midnight and dawn, large enough to holdmultiple diagnoses and the vast margins of what they can't describe- largeenough to hold the story of a polar explorer and his months alone in anotherkind of night. This memoir finds a candid, capacious language—always curious,often stunning—for the states of mystery and wonder at its core."
Kelle Groom
"A moving memoir of maternal love and devotion, Know the Night, explores isolation and loneliness in beautifully imagistic prose. The sleepless parent of a wordless child, Maria Mutch finds solace in the experience of explorer Admiral Richard Byrd as he struggled alone in continual night at the South Pole. Mutch weaves Byrd’s fascinating narrative like a spell into her own deeply affecting story of mothering a child with autism and Down Syndrome. This is a book full of hope, light, and companionship for surviving the small hours of the night."
“[A] poetic, elegant, and intense account.”
Library Journal
Canadian Mutch is already a triple-threat author, having published poems, essays, and short fiction. Here she draws on her evident writing talents to discuss the nights she spent exploring the universe with son Gabriel, an autistic child with Down syndrome who suffered through a bad period of sleeplessness. In-house enthusiasm for this affecting, lyrical tale.
Kirkus Reviews
An unhappy yet hopeful story of "a sleepless parent [and] a wordless child." In a poetic, entrancing voice, debut author Mutch chronicles how she and her autistic son, who also has Down syndrome, endured a two-year stretch of not sleeping through the night. She shepherded nonverbal 9-year-old Gabriel through his episodes of shrieks and noises—during which the tenderhearted, jazz-loving boy she adored vanished—and struggled to make sense of his confounding behavior. She desperately wanted to understand what Gabriel was "communicating" through these outbursts, but she was unable to break the code. Luckily for him, her husband slept through most of these chaotic episodes (their younger child is also a minor character in this tale), casting the author as the heroine looking to pierce Gabriel's impenetrable outer self. Readers experience Mutch's dazed state of mind as she relates her dreamlike memories, which give her memoir a novelistic tone; she tells of "hospital corridors blank as laundry chutes" and laments that "there is no sorcery for the problem" she faced. During this period, the author repeatedly read Adm. Robert Byrd's memoir detailing his six months alone during the Antarctic winter in 1934. She explores her son's silences and attendant nightly shrieks as Byrd did the perpetual night of the frozen, uncharted polar territory, and she regards his experiences as "correlative with the psychic regions where I've been stumbling." This kinship eventually hijacks her own story, possibly since his adventures offered an exciting respite to her son's nightly shouting, which, no matter her steadfastness, made her delirious. Further, the foreshadowing and imagined significance of events before this period try the patience of readers eager for the story to move toward its conclusion. Mutch's story is absorbing and creatively rendered, but the central mystery remains.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Maria Mutch’s poems, essays, and short fiction have appeared in various literary journals, and her story “Hot Hot Day” received a citation from the Canadian National Magazine Awards. She lives with her husband and two boys in Rhode Island. Know the Night is her first book.

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