While America has been a politically divided country for over two centuries, the gap between America’s parties seems to grow wider as their values become more and more associated with a sense of an old and new America. Still the Night Call by Joshua Senter is an attempt to bridge that gap, or at the very least to encourage empathy for those standing on the other side.
Still the Night Call’s lead character Calem Honeycutt is a dairy farmer in the Ozarks of Missouri. When we meet Calem on page one at 4:30 AM, he tells us almost immediately about his plans to kills himself that night. Over the course of the day, we follow Calem as he works the farm with his father, attempts to reconcile his deep debt, and reveals to readers his struggle with depression. Through it all Calem is constantly linking his problems back to changing America, the corrupt politics of all parties, and the recognition of his own ineptitude at truly understanding things beyond the farm.
To illustrate many of these issues, Senter introduces us to a host of characters who are both like and unlike Calem. We meet Calem’s parents who are quintessential American traditionalists—Dad milking cows, Mom making breakfast. We meet Calem’s sister Caitlyn through memories and phone calls—the rebel who ran away to the city to live out her liberal dreams. Then we meet Calem’s friends and neighbors—people he loves and who have tried their best both to find happiness for themselves and for their families often by doing things like voting for Trump. Senter shows each of these people’s biases and the way they judge and define one another by their values and politics.
Calem time and again reminds readers that he is not your stereotypical red-American-farm-boy. He actually stands somewhere in the middle of the radically left and right people around him. Sure, Calem (like everyone in his community) voted for Trump in 2016 even though he thought Trump was incompetent and ridiculous. But Calem voted for Trump because Trump promised something no one else did: a return to the glory days of traditional America when farmers didn’t struggle the way they do now. Even though Calem believes in gay rights, abortion, and a host of other human rights issues we don’t often associate with Republican leaning individuals, he chose to vote for Trump to better his own life.oldjjj
Calem openly claims that he doesn’t understand the wider world. And part of that understanding Calem is missing is his own place in the world. Calem identifies with many marginalized groups in America including transgender people and women and can’t seem to understand how being a white man makes him anymore advantaged than a person of color or someone of a different gender. What Calem doesn’t understand is intersectionality. He hears chanting of “down with the patriarchy” and assumes everyone hates straight white men. Calem doesn’t have the education or bandwidth to step back from his own situation and examine the ways in which men have dominated American decision making since its founding and how problematic that is. There is some sense that if only Calem could have a wider experience of the world, he would see himself and his place in that world differently. Instead, Calem is deeply attached to his life and career and doesn’t want to experience change on the farm, in his community, or within the world at large.
Where our empathy for Calem is strongest is in his struggle with mental health. His inability to act, his inability to truly understand anyone else’s position but his own, seem all to tie back to his struggle with mental health. Another important issue that is covered in Still the Night Call is the stigmatization of mental health issues, especially among men. Caitlyn volunteers at a women’s shelter in the city, and Calem wonders if something like that exists for men, but Caitlyn quickly explains that men don’t seek help the way women do. So while the undeniable truth that being a white man in America gives you some sort of upper hand, we see the price that comes with: how we’ve raised so many of our boys into men who can’t ask for help, who need to achieve greatness, who can’t empathize and understand because they’re taught instead to get ahead, to hide weakness, and to never admit defeat.
Still the Night Call addresses all of these important issues and more. If you are a staunch liberal or a staunch conservative, your politics and values likely won’t change after reading Senter’s book, but it seems his hope is that at the very least you’ll gain some empathy and understanding for the other side. If nothing else, Still the Night Call highlights the way mental health affects people’s lives no matter their social status, gender, or political values.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.