In this installment of Page 69,
We put Levis Keltner's Into That Good Night to the test.
Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read:
Page 69 tells of the first time Greg Dombrowski meets John H. Walker, the local legend recently diagnosed with terminal leukemia. In the memory, Greg confesses his infatuation with Erika Summerson, the young girl whose murder sparks the novel.
Here Greg struggles through his hypermasculinity to express his feelings for Erika while he and Walker bond over a game of HORSE. Their time together gives Walker license to later ask Greg to join the group that searches for Erika’s killer.
What is Into That Good Night about?
Into That Good Night is a story about a group of kids who become inseparable friends when a girl they love is murdered in the woods behind town. They bond while scouring a secluded section of the valley for clues to close her unsolved murder. They are soon harassed by a person they believe to be the killer. United against a common enemy, the group strikes back. Through the haze of adolescence in a predominantly white, working-class American suburb, the novel’s underdog protagonist Doug Horolez must then decide whether or not to help the only friends he’s ever known in their quest for peace and justice.
Do you think this page is a good reflection of the book overall? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
Greg’s point of view is one of seven in the novel. This excerpt snapshots his white cis hetero adolescence, mid-attempt to figure it all out—the new and raw emotions, the transience of relationships, Life, his talents and passions, with his intense attraction to Erika underpinning every thought.
The excerpt reflects the novel in that it illustrates an adolescent mind trying to make sense of the world passed on to their generation.
The novel’s point of view shifts between all seven kids: E. Summerson, Tiffany Dennys, Josué Ortiz, Alex Karahalios, John H. Walker, and Doug Horolez, who gets most camera time. Funny enough, Greg probably gets the least.
Trying to make sense of existence is the work before us all to our last days, I think. Adolescence is a special time because many of us start to ask big questions and our observations are in some ways less bullshit than what we tell ourselves in adulthood, misbelieving we have all the answers.
I hope readers find the group’s outlook as refreshing as I did and fall in love with at least one of these unlikely and tragic heroes.
INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT
cool to see him turn up alone on Greg’s court at Penny Park one November night, before Erika had died. The halogen floodlight mounted to the telephone pole behind the backboard had already whited-out the world beyond the court, right before Greg was about to head home, when the swings creaked. Greg saw nothing, then jumped—startled by the Dead Man on the sideline. Buried in a scarf and the hood of his parka, his face looked bloodless, zombiefied. The kid had cancer or something. Still, meeting Walker was worth skipping dinner for. They played HORSE. Greg won, but the game wasn’t a sweep. Walker might’ve had a chance if he’d stopped gabbing and focused when he had the ball. Greg remembered the kid asking after the winning shot if there was anything he loved more than basketball. Greg had said no. Greg then mentioned Erika, like some big stalker. He kept shooting, stripped down to his jersey and shorts, his body heat worked up, trying hard not to listen too hard to the bundled kid on the sidelines pushing with the personal questions, as though somehow he knew how sick Greg’s heart was for her, the guy saying, “Erika … Erika …” with these floats of white breath that Greg dodged on his way to the hoop, as if she would materialize out of one if the kid wasn’t dying and had a few ounces better lung capacity. Greg couldn’t shoot worth a shit, then, too afraid it could happen, which was dumb because of how badly he wished it would—until an hour later, when they were drinking hot Gatorade teas together—he and John H. Walker drinking Greg’s own winter game elixir, no shit—outside of 7-Eleven, like buddies, and Greg admitted wanting to love someone as much as he loved the game. “Something bigger,” Walker said and admitted he knew the feeling. Greg walked home that night with true respect for the kid, though feeling kinda that he’d gabbed and hardly let Walker speak, which wasn’t his style. Sharing feelings wasn’t his style. Still. So when the guy came up to him yesterday to say there might be a way to help Erika, he must’ve already known Greg would say yes.
The kids dug until daylight fled the crowns of the trees. All that time, they plodded with their long-handled shovels in the well-rooted earth while John went around saying, “Deeper. No—close. A little deeper.” Each thanked him for his feedback to be kind. They figured his condition made physical labor risky—everyone except E.
Levis Keltner is a writer, musician, editor, and educator from Chicago and living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Into That Good Night (Skyhorse, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in Bull: Men's Fiction. He is the editor-in-chief of Newfound and teaches writing at Texas State University.