Night Crossing

Overview

"Night Crossing carries us from a quiet Boston suburb to a wild pursuit across the northern counties of Ireland. The man and woman who find themselves bound together are from two different worlds. Nora is an American, married, pregnant, leading the most ordinary middle-class life until, one day, she finds her husband in the arms of another woman - and explodes out of her house, out of Boston, headed for an Irish countryside she long ago fell in love with, intending to walk across the open green fields where she will decide how her life is to
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Overview

"Night Crossing carries us from a quiet Boston suburb to a wild pursuit across the northern counties of Ireland. The man and woman who find themselves bound together are from two different worlds. Nora is an American, married, pregnant, leading the most ordinary middle-class life until, one day, she finds her husband in the arms of another woman - and explodes out of her house, out of Boston, headed for an Irish countryside she long ago fell in love with, intending to walk across the open green fields where she will decide how her life is to proceed. But on the way, waiting in a clinic in Northern Ireland, contemplating an abortion, she hears a woman screaming in the street. A mammoth bomb has exploded." "Immediately, instinctively, Nora comes to the aid of a wounded man, a British soldier. And from that moment everything spirals out of control. Suddenly Nora is on the run, in the middle of someone else's nightmare - her pursuers are revealed as British Intelligence, and the anonymous wounded Brit as a man with a past, a personality, a direction, an importance, a name - and an adversary - of his own. What follows through eight terrifying days is a chase in the grand manner - his life in her hands, her life upended - culminating in a daring night crossing of the Irish Sea to Scotland and to the moment of truth."--BOOK JACKET.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
For more than 20 years, Nora Andrews has lived within a safe suburban cocoon, but now that her children have left the nest, she finds herself facing the harsh reality of a failing marriage and loss of purpose. The pregnancy she hoped would restore both proves just another complication when she finds her husband in the arms of a much younger women. Meanwhile, James Blackburn has served as a British intelligence officer in Northern Ireland for 18 years, dedicating his life to what has come to seem a hopeless cause: bringing peace to that war torn land. Emotionally drained, he has come to believe that something drastic must be done to bring both Protestant and Catholic hardliners to their senses. On August 15, 1998 in Omagh, Northern Ireland, these two disparate lives are brought together amidst the flying debris of a horrific car bomb. Nora, in Ireland to find her bearings, notices James running away from what will soon become the bomb site with a baby in his arms. How did he know? This is a question a lot of people want answered and others want hidden. After innocently telling a priest what she saw, Nora and James find themselves on the run, but in the midst of the nightmare their lives are transformed. Theirs is a gripping, cinematic tale by the author of The Cliff Walk that can well be recommended for the general library audience. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After a pair of successful memoirs (Of Time and Memory, 1999; The Cliff Walk, 1997), Snyder returns to fiction with a bland and platitudinous novel. Massachusetts housewife Nora Andrews's life is ruptured by the simultaneous discoveries that she is pregnant again at age 43 and that her husband is sleeping with another woman. Confused, dejected, with a "little grain of rice" in her belly, she absconds to Ireland, where she spent some time 20 years ago when her two children were toddlers. Abortion being illegal in the Republic, she makes her way to Northern Ireland and the town of Omagh—on the very day of that city's infamous 1998 bombing by the IRA. In the aftermath of the blast, Nora gives shelter to a wounded British soldier, Capt. James Blackburn, who, the reader already knows, has conspired to reverse the IRA's warning so that the crowd goes toward rather than away from the bomb area. While Blackburn's motives make superficial sense—rescue the peace process by turning the people against the IRA—the fact that he is responsible for so many deaths makes him an unsympathetic figure and a deeply bizarre love interest for Nora. As she drives him around Northern Ireland, eluding the police and the IRA, Nora has epiphanies of desperate banality. Life is "a deep secret that never fully reveals itself to us"; "we cross borders of time and the person we once were, we leave behind"; "she was thinking that maybe love is nothing more complicated than looking up to find someone looking at you, waiting to meet your glance." After saving the captain's life and encountering all the Irish stereotypes known to man, Nora comes to yet another understanding. She must do what the kindlypriest has told her: "Go and live, Nora. Spread your light across the world, and live." Uh-huh.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345438041
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/2/2003
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 8.20 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Don J. Snyder lives in Maine with his wife and their four children. He is the author of two memoirs, The Cliff Walk and Of Time and Memory; a biography, A Soldier’s Disgrace; and the novels From the Point and Veteran’s Park.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

August 1, 1998

. . . In the quiet harbor of Inishowen, which faced east to the Irish Sea, Captain James Oliver Blackburn stood on the bow of a sailing sloop waiting for the men from Group Four to arrive. After more than a year of American-brokered negotiations between the warring fac- tions in Northern Ireland, the chance for peace was in grave jeopardy. A drastic measure to save the Good Friday peace accords was to be set into motion this morning in a secret meeting of senior intelligence officers in the North Channel of the Irish Sea.

Blackburn, an Englishman from Lancashire, was a tall, gangly man, forty-eight years old, narrow-waisted, with the thin, slightly bowed legs of a schoolboy. He had sideburns that would have been fashionable in another era, high cheekbones, and piercing blue eyes that were narrowed against the cold morning rain. It was the first of August, but in this remote part of Northern Ireland, summer had already begun to fade.

Blackburn shivered, but not from the cold. What was going to take place in the next several hours would set in motion an atrocity that the civilized world, and God, and he himself would forever condemn. There would be no forgiveness. But he was a part of it now; there was no turning back. And what was worse—maybe this was what made him shiver—he was eager for it to happen.

The alarm on his watch went off, he checked the time—seven—and just as the watch stopped beeping he looked out to the mouth of the harbor. In seconds he heard a motor off to the west. And then a corresponding sound to the south. He waited as the boats appeared. He checked his watch again: 7:03. Ifnothing else, we are precise, he thought.

The boats were purposely unmatched, one a Grumman 34 trawler like those used by cod fishermen out of Portsmouth, the other a Keisling Fury, twenty-five feet along the waterline from bow to stern, with a two-ton keel. He knew that there were two snipers on board each boat, fore and aft, armed with Italian-made Carlino long-range rifles, silencers screwed into the barrels, their scopes fitted with infrared filters for night vision. The skippers of both boats, men who would not be identifiable by either the British government or the IRA if they were caught, had been smuggled into the country three days earlier. They had traveled from Rome under false French passports, and Blackburn himself had sailed them here from Stranraer, Scotland. During the meeting this morning they would be in constant voice communication, via satellite, with Carl Landry in an unmarked office at the rear of a record shop on Bathe Street in Belfast. Landry was a good man, brought up through the ranks of counterespionage by the Thatcher administration. His obsessive personality made him perfect for this operation. He couldn't leave his office at the end of a day without straightening the Oriental rug in front of the tall windows that looked down on Bridge Street and lining up the pencils on his desk in ascending lengths. Sixteen years ago, Landry had been stationed at Dublin Castle, and on occasion Blackburn had been his doubles partner in agency badminton tournaments. Those were the dark days of the Irish Troubles, when it seemed a passageway to peace would never be found.

Peace, Blackburn thought. He had imagined it luxuriously and hungered for it the way a man hungers for a woman's touch. And in the last year it was finally there, in the wind and in whispers. To Blackburn it felt like a vindication of everything he had believed in from the time when he had volunteered before his twentieth birthday for transfer from his first post in the ranks of the Royal Guard on Downing Street to the Special Services in Northern Ireland. How odd, he thought, how terribly odd, that now, in order to have the peace at last, he would betray the British government he honored and the army he had pledged himself to.

Watching the observation boats take their final positions, Blackburn plotted the course he would sail this morning. A westward tack to clear the mouth of the harbor and then a broad reach into the channel. In the harbor the water was as still as a mill pond, but half a mile from shore there was already a light chop, which he knew would build through the morning. Calm on the Irish Sea was virtually nonexistent, but the sloop he was skippering today had a high freeboard and plenty of weight underneath to hold her steady in rough seas. In Blackburn's mind she was as safe as a church pew, but the three officers joining him—Paul Norney, former head of Ways and Means for Internal Operations in Winchester, England; Nelson Orr, allocations specialist trained at the observatory in Portsmouth; and Timothy Nichols, communications chief of the Wolfe Council twenty-five years ago when headquarters were in Churchill's old war office—were landlocked fellows who'd never had salt water up their noses. If it got too rough, he would take down the mainsail and put up the storm jib to keep the boat from heeling over, and the three of them from throwing up.

After checking his watch once more, he fiddled with both halyards and loosened the bowline so that when the others arrived they could pull out of the harbor as quickly as possible. When he was satisfied, he stood up and, out of habit, tapped his shirt pocket with his right hand for the cigarettes he had quit smoking ten months earlier. It would have been nice, he thought, to light up in this dismal rain and take a deep drag.

He walked to the stern and glanced at the shore, where residents were beginning to appear in the village under dark umbrellas. He saw a red telephone booth, a white church steeple, and piles of granite blocks from an old dock that had washed out decades ago in a winter storm. He took in these details thoughtlessly, and then as he was searching for signs of anything unusual he noted a woman hanging wash on a line in the garden of a newly painted cottage. Her laundry consisted of small articles of clothing, small enough to be doll's clothes, Blackburn thought, and he assumed that she had a baby in her midst. A smile spread across his face. He had been with the British Army in Northern Ireland his entire adult life, and the sight of this young mother reminded him of his early days here when he had first been struck by the beauty of the Irish women. Not the physical beauty so much, though that was appreciable, but the brilliant light of their spirit and the music in their voices. Here was a population of women who held on to a desire that the contemporary world had declared unfashionable, the desire to have one baby after another and to spend their days at home with them. Something in this had appealed to Blackburn's sense of promise and order and filled him with hope.

And there was also the romantic readiness of the Irish women and the persistent optimism even in the face of hardship and loss. A young mother hanging out her family's laundry in the morning rain symbolized for the captain the patience that was so steadfast in this country's women.

He watched her until she had finished and disappeared inside the cottage. When he saw a light go on in an upstairs room, the baby's room perhaps, he told himself that it was the ordinary and plain acts in a life that convey the dignity of our intentions and mark our presence with holiness. This holiness was what he had poured his life into protecting; he had given himself so completely to the task that he had missed out on the chance for a wife and children of his own, but sometime after he turned forty he grimly accepted it as his destiny and began burying himself even deeper in the work to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict here.

Today it seemed to him that he had always known that never very far from the restorative routines and the comforting symmetry of mornings like this was the brutal violence that had destroyed those things in the thirty years of troubles in this country—pubs and cottages blown to bits, lights in children's rooms put out forever, dreams ripped apart by the awful killing.

Long after she had gone inside the cottage, Blackburn was still wishing he could have stood beside her for a moment and told her that soon he would meet the three men who had secretly helped him plot the last remaining way to save the fragile peace process. The last chance to bring Protestants and Catholics together, guaranteeing a new political order in the country, which would include representation by Unionists and Republicans. Here it is, he would tell her, a recompense to the Irish people for all they have suffered.

He allowed himself one last glance at the faintly lit room. Didn't that room hold all that a man needs in the world? Shelter from the cold. A woman to love. A child to be remem- bered by.

Unless the man is at war, he told himself.

That thought was lingering in his mind when the car arrived and the three men made their way down the dock toward the sloop. As part of the deception, their car was a junker and they themselves were camouflaged in the clothing of local fishermen. Blackburn was just beginning to settle into the steely demeanor he had always brought to covert operations when suddenly he saw the same demeanor in the three men making their way toward him. He felt a hollowness settle in his lungs. This is going to happen, he said to himself. And I am going to let it happen.

The stocky man in front was Paul Norney, whom Blackburn had known for eighteen years, ever since Army Intelligence had transferred him to Northern Ireland from Helsinki. Nelson Orr came next, limping on a right leg made of wood, compliments of the war in the Falklands. He and Blackburn had worked side by side for sixteen years, all of those years under the command of Timothy Nichols, who walked just behind, one hand holding a fishing cap on his head.

The four men were silent as they boarded the boat. No greetings were exchanged, not a word was spoken. When they were under sail, tacking across the harbor, the rain increased and Nichols's gold-rimmed glasses were fogged when he turned to Blackburn. "Have you got her all right, James?" he asked.

He took off his glasses, and James nodded.

"Well, then," Nichols said as he drew his lips tight. "As we all know, this will be the last meeting of Group Four. When we return to shore, no trace of Group Four shall remain in existence. Everything is in place, gentlemen."

Orr, the one quickest to anger, spoke next. "The bastards got Mountbatten on a sea just like this. Let's not forget that."

"That was a bad day," Paul Norney said gruffly.

Blackburn remembered it as well as anyone. August 27, 1979. The same afternoon the IRA set off bombs at Warrenpoint in County Down, killing eighteen British paratroopers. It was a turning point. Margaret Thatcher visited Warrenpoint the next day and immediately adopted a battle cry from the 1930s, declaring that the terrorists could be defeated by the army only if the politicians showed the necessary will to declare an all-out war against the IRA.

"Everything goes back to that day," Nichols said grimly. "We're out here today in the rain, bobbing around on this cork because of that day."

True, Blackburn thought, and somewhere in this world were the broken souls of those Irish citizens who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday, when British paratroopers shot dead thirteen anti-internment marchers in Londonderry. He remem- bered the statement issued through his office after that massacre saying it was perfectly legal for the army to shoot anybody who obstructed or got in the way of the armed forces of the queen because getting in the way made you the queen's enemy. This went for children and the elderly, too, anyone who was simply too slow to get out of the way.

Jesus, somewhere along the line it had all gotten out of hand, Blackburn thought as he watched a gust of wind from the northwest rush across the water. He pushed the tiller away from him, bringing the bow of the boat into irons to spill the gust. When the mainsail began flapping, Orr looked up at it anxiously.

"Here's a pleasant thought, gentlemen," Orr said. "If we're caught, the loyalists and the IRA will argue over who gets to hang us."

Norney laughed without expression. "No. Downing Street will hand two of us to the Catholics and the other two to the Protestants. And that will be the end of it."

Blackburn, surprised to hear himself speaking, said, "If we're uncovered, there won't ever be an end to it."

A silence fell over all four men.

At last Nichols spoke, stating what was obvious to them, but what they were grateful, nonetheless, to have articulated. "If anything goes wrong, it's each man for himself. Our government will discredit us, our army will—"

He paused for several seconds, then resumed with his head bowed as if in prayer. "We have done disagreeable things in the past so that the people in this pitiable country"—now he looked up—"people like the woman you were watching hang out her wash this morning, James, aren't crushed in the end. We do these things in order to prevent the destruction of everything that is decent."

A strange silence fell over them; it seemed to possess a weight of its own, a weight that Blackburn could feel through the boat's rigging. There had been plenty of evil before, enough of it committed in the torture chamber of the prison at Long Kesh to send every British intelligence officer, bureaucrat, and politician to hell for a long time. And an equal sentence awaited the IRA, and the Unionist fanatics.

Blackburn looked at the deep lines on Nichols's face, and his thinning gray hair. He remembered that when Timothy was just starting out, he had possessed the looks of a movie star. Espionage work has one moral principle: It is justified by results. These results had aged many good men beyond their years. But there was something more about the four of them, and each of them knew this. Each man in his own way wanted an end to this war the way only a soldier could want it. No politician in London or Belfast or Dublin or Washington was willing to do what these men were going to do to finally stop the killing.

The meeting was over quickly, and when the sloop began heaving in the rising swells and two of the men started throwing up over the gunwales, Blackburn felt his own stomach turn, not because of the sea but because of the secret plan that the four of them were now pledged to. It was a murderously simple plan: The current peace negotiations must reach fulfillment at any cost, and everyone involved knew full well that they were doomed to fail in the end because the IRA would never agree to decommission its weapons. Unless, as Timothy Nichols had put it at their first meeting seven months ago when they formed Group Four, "we can succeed in turning the Irish people against their own army. We make the people hate the IRA and demand that they lay down their arms."

The one certain way to achieve this was clear: The next time a bomb warning was called in by the IRA, the warning would be reversed, sending the innocent citizens of this country into the bomb area rather than away from it. There was no way of calculating in advance when the next warning would come or how many people would be killed or maimed, but Orr had told the group that his informers believed the IRA was planning a large incident before the end of summer.

As Blackburn maneuvered the sloop back to her mooring, he thought again of the woman hanging out her clothes. Maybe someday he would return here and meet her. There would be peace then, and he would tell her how it had been achieved. Unless, of course, she was in her grave by then, one of the innocents sacrificed in order to bring this to a close.

"And we're certain there's no other way?" he asked, though he knew the answer plainly enough.

Only silence again. All three men looked at him and then away. It was Nichols who had the last word. "We've set our course to do the thing that governments and politicians cannot do," he said. "I think it's best if we remind ourselves that in this bloody business you can never be less evil than the evil you oppose."

Copyright 2001 by Don J. Snyder
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Interviews & Essays

Melissa Falcon was the 2000 Outstanding Graduate of the Southwest Texas State University's MFA Program in fiction. She was the recipient of the Katherine Anne Porter Fellowship for two consecutive years and has recently completed her first novel, Ink Poison. Her short stories and essays have appeared in various literary magazines and journals. Currently, she is writing and teaching in San Jose, California.

Melissa Falcon: Don, although you were not in Northern Ireland at the time the bombing in Omagh took place, you heard news of the devastation there while sitting with your wife and children at home. It affected you so deeply that you immediately left home for Northern Ireland. Who or what inspired you to tell the story of an anguished city through the eyes of your protagonist, Nora? What caused you to see the connection between this broken woman and a betrayed city?

Don Snyder: I was in my home in Scarborough, Maine when news of the bombing in
Omagh came over the radio. It was just another report of a far away tragedy until the reporter said that many of the victims were children shopping in town that Saturday morning for their new school uniforms. Four years earlier I had taken my children to Ireland to visit the town where their mother and I had lived one winter soon after we were married and we had seen those beautiful Irish children in their school uniforms. As I listened to the news, I recalled my own children walking through the streets of Ireland, and I felt such a profound sadness that I told Colleen I had to go to Omagh and bear witness to the loss and the sorrow. That was my intention.

I attended thirteen funeralsin three days, following the mourning processions through the streets of the town, and out into the countryside to the cemeteries where, spread out before me was this lovely country, betrayed and broken to pieces beneath her beauty. This led my imagination to a beautiful woman with a broken heart. That was the point of origin for Nora and for the novel.

MF: In Night Crossing, does Nora's character reflect some of the struggles you endured as a boy whose young mother died in childbirth, leaving her widower to raise his twin boys? It seems that from your loss as a child, you understood early on the fallible attempts at intimacy made in the context of family. Do your childhood experiences allow you to create characters like Nora, James Blackburn, and Father Conlon--characters who are forced to reinvent themselves and pull from their dark histories a belief in self-worth?

DS: I was forty-five years old before I discovered that I had a mother who gave up her life in childbirth so that I could live. Learning this finally explained why I have lived my whole life feeling unworthy, and why I became a writer who creates characters whose only deliverance from their own feelings of unworthiness is the touch of someone they love. That touch illuminates a path through the darkness.

MF: I believe you mentioned that when you were in Omagh in August 1998, it was the image of Avril Monaghane's grave, the square shape needed to bury the young mother and her three children, that really illustrated the horror of what happened. Were there other images as well, actual scenes that you experienced during your time in Omagh, which remain in the book as documentation what you saw?

DS: The images in the streets of Omagh are still vivid to me. People standing in the rain with their heads bowed as if the rain itself had weight. Along the sidewalks thousands of bouquets of flowers and photographs of the dead like shrines set in the broken glass. Wreckage from the blown up buildings strewn along the river banks as if it had been carried to this peaceful town from some horrible, distant place. People weeping in one another's embrace. And the apologetic faces of the young British soldiers.

MF: What was it about the apologetic faces of the young British soldiers that led to the creation of James Blackburn? Did you find the essence of him there in the rain?

DS: I will never forget the faces of the British soldiers patrolling the streets of Omagh after the blast. They were young faces, of course, far too young to fully comprehend the history and the political intricacies of the conflict they had been ordered to mediate. You could see in their eyes reluctance, an apologetic expression, and though they walked along the sidewalks with their fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons, they were not menacing in any way. I saw no eagerness on their part, and I began to imagine my central character, James Blackburn, as a British soldier who cared deeply about the people of Northern Ireland and their struggle. So deeply that he was cast into an emotional conflict that nearly caused his destruction.

MF: Was it difficult to weave the nonfiction elements of this novel with the fictional story?

DS: Everything I have written in Night Crossing, the fiction and the nonfiction, is in the service of revealing some important truth about the human condition, about the way we love and betray one another, about the losses we suffer and the dignity with which we struggle to believe in ourselves. What I imagine in my fiction has the same resonance to me as what I actually see and hear in the real world. One is no more or less true than the other. And both are sewn through the narrative.

MF: How have your experiences as a husband and father contributed to your portrayal of writing from an expectant and betrayed woman's point of view? I know you very much enjoyed and celebrated your wife's four pregnancies and the child-rearing years you spent along the coast of Maine. Did the entry of your children's lives into the "teenage years" give you perspective on what Nora felt like as woman who finds that "time runs into itself" as the "straight line between past and future [are] broken . . .?"

DS: It is a question of hope. The hope that accompanies small children. I was unprepared for how I fell in love with my four children from the moment they were born. I don't think any father in the history of the world needed the touch of his children the way I did, or cherished this touch the way I did. I sometimes awake in the night, dreaming that they have turned back from their teenaged years and are little again, their small hands patting my face, their feet as long as they are wide. Those beautiful square feet at six months.

And just as I was unprepared for the blessing of the touch they bestowed upon me when they were small, I have been unprepared for the emptiness I have felt as each child became a person in his/her own right and began to walk away from me. Everyone tells you that you never really lose your children, and that they will come back to you after they pass through the difficult teenage years. But this is not true because you will never get to hold them again as you once did. Nora certainly feels both the blessing and the loss of her children, and her journey through the world is shaped by both.

MF: You address this notion of loss, both in the characters and in your acknowledgements at the end of Night Crossing, where you thank the real people of Omagh who opened their hearts to you in the days following the despair. In that list you also acknowledge "two IRA members in Portrush" who helped you to research Night Crossing. Can you explain what they helped you to better understand about Northern Ireland and the politics there?

DS: Once I committed myself emotionally to write about the bombing in Omagh and the history of the troubles in Northern Ireland, it was important for me to hear the IRA's justification for the slaughter of the innocent. Their justification convinced me of nothing, but it was still important for me to hear it so that I could reveal it in the narrative in an even-handed manner. And it was during this meeting in Portrush, where I decided that neither side in this conflict was without guilt and that both sides had betrayed the people of Northern Ireland.

MF: The book gives us a clear, double view of the politics in Northern Ireland. While researching in Omagh, did you ever consider writing the story as a documentation of your findings? Or did you know right away that fiction would be the best form to carry this story of struggle and rebuilding?

DS: In the name of truth countless lies have been told about the conflict in Northern Ireland by all sides lying to serve their own purposes, lying to themselves in order to survive the hopelessness and the pain and the loss. So, it seemed right for me to create the lie of fiction in order to reveal the truth, a lie broad enough to encompass all the other lies that preceded my book.

There was that, and also the fact that I did not want to present a nonfiction book, which either side could then claim as a document to corroborate their particular lie.

MF: What venues for your work are you exploring now? You've had some exciting things on your plate--the fiction you studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, followed by five novels and the two memoirs you have written over the course of our friendship. What is next for you, where is your heart at work?

DS: I have a new novel coming out in January 2004. It is called Winter Dreams, and it is the story of a man dealing with the loss of the only woman he ever loved. They were in college when they fell in love and then lost one another. They are nearly fifty years old when they meet again. The novel covers everything I've learned about love in my lifetime.

Also, this past year I was hired by Hallmark to write a screenplay of my last novel, Fallen Angel. That screenplay became the Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas movie for 2003, starring one of our great actors, Gary Sinise. My plan now is to write two more screenplays this year of two of my books, Of Time & Memory, and The Cliff Walk. Then, on to a new novel.
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Reading Group Guide

A novel of political intrigue (the time is 1998) with overtones of a classic Hitchcock thriller; a story of a romantic encounter—of two strangers suddenly invading each other's lives.

Night Crossing carries us from a quiet Boston suburb to a wild pursuit across the northern counties of Ireland. The man and woman who find themselves bound together are from two different worlds. Nora is an American, married, pregnant, leading the most ordinary middle-class life until, one day, she finds her husband in the arms of another woman—and explodes out of her house, out of Boston, headed for an Irish countryside she long ago fell in love with, intending to walk across the open green fields where she will decide how her life is to proceed. But on the way, waiting in a clinic in Northern Ireland, contemplating an abortion, she hears a woman screaming in the street. A mammoth bomb has exploded.

Immediately, instinctively, Nora comes to the aid of a wounded man, a British soldier. And from that moment everything spirals out of control. Suddenly Nora is on the run, in the middle of someone else's nightmare—her pursuers are revealed as British Intelligence, and the anonymous wounded Brit as a man with a past, a personality, a direction, an importance, a name—and an adversary—of his own. What follows through eight terrifying days is a chase in the grand manner—his life in her hands, her life upended—culminating in a daring night crossing of the Irish Sea to Scotland and to the moment of truth.

From the Hardcover edition.

1. The novel opens with a ship crossing the Irish Sea. Why do you think the author chose to begin the bookhere and how does this initial "crossing" compare and contrast to the crossed borders of time and persons made at the book's close? How does this initial crossing of the English Captain set the tone for the book as a whole?

2. How is Nora's journey in Northern Ireland linked to her journey in the United States before she arrives in the shattered city of Omagh? Although both of her journeys reveal something about how humans learn to suffer with dignity–what are some of the reversals that happen within Nora's character as she struggles to define her self worth at home and abroad?

3. Snyder refers to Nora's pregnancy as "a grain of rice in her belly." What effect does the repetition of this language have on the reader, and what connotations does this language produce as the reader follows Nora's decision over whether or not to terminate her pregnancy? At what point do we see Nora stake claim on this "grain of rice in her belly"? Does this claim impact the plot of the novel?

4. What was the intention of the British Army when they released the bomb warning called by the IRA? How did the devastation of the bombing affect the allegiances of the people living in Northern Ireland?

5. When Nora first sees James Oliver Blackburn in the café, before the bombing, he is shaking in a physical reaction to what he knows will happen in the city center. In the following scene, Nora finds Blackburn running down the street with a baby and a hysterical mother in tow. What do these moments reveal to the audience about the emotional conflict the British soldier is cast into?

6. Does the characterization of Blackburn's represent the conflicts ailing Northern Ireland and the constant political struggling there?

7. How do domestic life in Northern Ireland and the cast of minor characters, namely women and mothers, contrast Nora's life as a wife and mother in the United States? Are there similarities as well?

8. Father Conlon is a priest and a duplicitous man. Why does he call upon Nora for help and what qualities, like his own, does he see in her?

9. In both the opening of the novel and once at the close, Snyder makes reference to Wal-mart as a shopping center where Nora can be, for the most part, anonymous in her daze. By implementing these scenes, what social commentary about American life is being made within the context of the novel?

10. What specific examples can you find to illustrate what Snyder defines as the "romantic readiness of the Irish women and their persistent optimism, even in the face of hardship and loss"?

11. How is Blackburn and Nora's night crossing emblematic of the intimacy they experience when Nora returns to Northern Ireland? What new dimensions do we see in these characters as they make the journey through the night?

12. How do Nora's feelings about Steven's affair change throughout the course of the novel? What examples can you find of these changes?

13. Snyder relies heavily upon Father Conlon's dialogue and the minor characters in the book to tell the story of Omagh and the devastation that occurred there. These collective voices work to present the views of a suffering people that Nora, as an American, understands as a person passing through a tragedy. What tensions do these voices create in the book?

14. Although Night Crossing is a book of fiction, there are many scenes that present the tragedy there, along with the weather and countryside, in a style that seems more like a documentary depiction of setting. Discuss where you see this writing style and how it contributes to the novel.

15. What is the significance of the title Night Crossing, both figuratively and literally?

16. Jake, Nora's oldest son, visits her on the day she plans to revisit Blackburn, following the birth of her baby. In this scene, standing at the departure gate, in what ways do we see her as having lost and gained a son?

17. When Jake meets his new brother he looks into the child's eyes and recites a passage from one of Tom Wolfe's novels: "There was a kind of dream which I can only summarize as dreams of guilt and time. The huge accumulations of my years of struggle. My brutal and unending efforts to record upon my memory each brick and paving stone of every street that I had ever walked upon, each face of every thronging crowd in every city with which my spirit had contested its savage and uneven struggle for supremacy–they all returned now–each stone, each street, each town." Why do you think Snyder gave Jake this language to recite the first time he sees his brother and what does this quote summarize about Nora's journey through both a broken marriage and a devastated city?

18. Who is John Ferguson? And why does he want to help Father Conlon transport and save the injured soldier? Where does he stand politically and how does his role contribute to the plot of the novel?

19. After Nora finds out her husband has betrayed her, she wants to swim in her sequined hooker clothes, on the beach where she and Steve once made love. Snyder compares Nora to a soldier with a "Bayonet shining in the moonlight." What reaction did you have to this scene, as Nora "made the sign of the cross then plunged into the sea"? In what ways does this scene foreshadow later events in the novel?

20. At the close of Night Crossing, Snyder thanks the real people of Omagh. How do you think the people of Northern Ireland received Snyder's novel? What reactions might they have to the characters and literary devices Snyder uses to tell the story, and why?

21. According to Father Conlon, what were the intentions of the British Renegade unit when they changed the bomb warning and sent the Irish people straight to their deaths? How does this information, given by Father Conlon impact the emotional reaction of the reader? Discuss your political opinions and understandings of the events that took place in Omagh on August 1998.

22. How do the relationships between strangers in the novel reflect the human ability to reach beyond the boundaries of social class, religion and politics to help others?

23. All the main characters in this novel have a story to tell, a history that haunts and moves and feeds their memory. Discuss the stories told by John Ferguson, Father Conlon, and James Blackburn. How are they like and unlike the story Nora takes from Northern Ireland? Do you fell the re-telling of these characters' histories is an act of redemption and salvation? What about the re-telling of our histories relieves and frees us?

24. As much as it is a story of political intrigue, Night Crossing is also a multifaceted love story. Near the close of the book, standing besides Avril Monaghan's grave with James Blackburn, Nora finds "her weight falling below the soles of her feet, through the surface of life that holds our coming and going from day to day, to the region of dreams and memory. We don't fall in love, we sink into it, into the stillness where it seems we are the only two people awake in the world, into its silence and the questions love never asks of us." Discuss the importance of this reflection and what it reveals about the love story that unfolds in the heart of a broken country–why is it important that this love story carries us through the telling of the tragedy?

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