My eighth read of the 2022 Booker Prize longlist (and my last read before the shortlist is announced tomorrow) was Leila Mottley’s Nightcrawling (Alfred A. Knopf 2022). Mottley, a poet, was 17 when she started this novel, and there is a vibrance and urgency of youth that hums through the poetic prose. The words are pretty, but the story is horrific; it is one of the more difficult reads I’ve read this year.
With her father dead and her mother in prison, seventeen-year-old Kiara is struggling to survive. Her older brother, Marcus, is busy chasing a pipedream, longing for the same fame and fortune that their uncle stumbled upon, and Kiara is burning the candle at both ends struggling to make ends meet. When a stranger mistakes her for a prostitute, she doesn’t realize what’s happening until too late – until he’s finished pressing into her and pushes crumbled bills in her hand. Then she knows that if she is to survive, if she’s to pay rent and feed herself and the son of a frequently MIA neighbor, she’s going to have to start nightcrawling.
But Oakland isn’t Los Angeles and Kiara’s not Julia Roberts; she finds herself a plaything of a bunch of crooked cops. Cops she can’t refuse when they call. Cops who sometimes pay sometimes don’t. Cops she knows by badge number, not name. Some are soft, almost apologetic. Some are monsters. An unexpected event exposes the scandal, and her name is released. She becomes the star witness in a highly publicized investigation of the Oakland Police Department. (FYI – the scandal is real and Mottley addresses the inspiration in her note. Interestingly enough, she doesn’t mention Jasmin Abuslin, the sex worker involved in the scandal who was awarded just under a million dollars.)
The novel is a bruise. It’s a scream, ripped from deep within, and hurled into the night. It’s the barrel of a gun. It’s blood on the bathroom floor. It’s sirens and sex and scars. But it’s also hope. It’s Sunday Shoes and belly laughs. It’s pancakes. It’s the thump of a basketball on a court, the swish through the net. It’s her thumbprint on his skin and his arms holding her safe.
It glitters. Like broken glass, not diamonds. But it glitters all the same.
Read this book.
Booker Count: 8 of 13